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Reducing Reliance on Substance Abuse – and What to Do Instead

Date:Wednesday December 9, 2020

Even among professionals who are trained in healthcare responses, the draw of using drugs and alcohol to cope with difficult situations can be strong. Coping with experiences of stress and trauma through the use of alcohol or controlled substances is very common, but can have devastating effects on an individual’s life, health, and relationships. In many first responder professions, the rate of alcohol abuse is actually higher than in the general population, with some studies attributing it to the greater stressors experienced by these professions during their work lives.

Here are some ways to stop the cycle of substance abuse and seek help for recovery, for yourself or for first responder colleagues. These statistics can change, and that change begins with getting key health resources into the hands of all first responders.

Create Supportive Environments Not Dependent on Substances

If alcohol and drugs aren’t a struggle for you, you may still have the opportunity to be a good ally for your first responder peers. If your team’s way of unwinding leads to some team members over-consuming and behaving in risky ways, consider how you can foster community without relying on substances. If there are ‘dry’ activities that can still bring your team together, you may aid any team members who are already working to avoid alcohol or other substances.

Self-Reflect About What Triggers Uses of Substances

If you believe your use of alcohol or drugs falls into a “social” category or another category of use that isn’t abuse, think about the circumstances that prompt their use. Are you using them as a response to stress, as a way to unwind, or as a way to avoid conflict or conversations? If so, it’s worth taking a bit of time to make some goals for addressing challenges like stress management or family relationship conflict head-on, rather than letting substances be your first line of defense.

If You’re In an Unhealthy Pattern, Seek Advice and New Coping Strategies

If your uses of substances fall into the abuse category or could be considered an addiction, you are not alone. Many first responders have found themselves at this point and chosen to look at how to change the cycle, even if it is a challenge. From talking to a substance abuse counselor to exploring different ways to manage stress in life that aren’t as dependent on substances, the resources are out there.


Some Resources for Substance Abuse Prevention and Addiction Recovery:

  • You don’t have to wait until you meet these signs of addiction to seek help and resources for quitting a substance, but knowing what is considered a red flag can help you understand where you are and how to proceed.
  • This resource focuses on the heightened stresses of COVID-19, but even in regular first responder situations, these resources from the CDC are incredibly valuable when you notice a pattern of turning to substances when you need stress management help.
  • Want to try some training in resilience to boost your coping mechanisms? Organizations like Pause First offer online trainings and share free resources to help you calm your mind and recover from stress in a healthy way.
  • Survive First provides resources for first responders and their families seeking information to help navigate mental health challenges including addiction.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)’s 12-Step approach follows a set of guidelines designed as “steps” toward recovery, and is widely accepted as an effective tool for maintaining sobriety. Their website offers resources and advice for those looking for tried-and-true help.
  • Lighthouse Health & Wellness apps offer therapist referrals to experienced professionals who understand the unique needs of first responders.


If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact COPLINE, a 24-hour CONFIDENTIAL Support Line at 800-267-5463

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