September 8, 2015

Combat Addiction with a 12-Step Program

For police officers, firefighters, military veterans, and others who serve others every day, chronic stress becomes a natural part of life. Unfortunately, this causes many first responders to desensitize themselves and turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Over time, substance use can have a negative impact on work, family life, relationships with friends, and ability to enjoy everyday activities. Despite this, many current and former first responders are reluctant to admit that they need professional help. For people in this situation, 12-step programs can be transformative.

A 12-step program consists of twelve guiding principles that help participants understand their addiction and how they can overcome it. You’ll meet with others who are like you, and through these relationships you’ll build a support group. There are numerous benefits to 12-step programs that set them apart as a way for first responders to reclaim their lives.

  1. You’ll realize that addiction is a common problem for people in your line of work. Addiction is profoundly isolating, and it may feel as though you are the only one who has faced these problems. However, chances are high that other people you work with have struggled with similar issues over the course of their careers. Participating in a 12-step program can be a good way to see how common these problems are. From police chiefs to paramedics to military veterans, all kinds of people struggle with drinking and drug use.
  2. Find a supportive group of people with similar backgrounds and problems. No matter how supportive your family or friends may be, sometimes it is helpful to talk to someone who has faced similar problems as you. Entering a 12-step program gives you the chance to share your story with people who will understand.
  3. Confidentiality is paramount. One of the foremost benefits of a 12-step program is its commitment to confidentiality. Many police officers, firefighters, and other public safety workers have prominent roles within their local communities. It is understandable that you may want to be discreet about your history and problems. In 12-step groups, privacy is taken very seriously. You can be confident that the information you share will not leave the group.
  4. It is a safe space to share your worries and fears. Opening up about your problems with drug or alcohol use can feel very vulnerable. In a 12-step group, no one is going to push you to say more than you are ready to share. In this safe space, you can feel secure talking about your deepest worries or struggles without fearing judgment.
  5. Learn new ways to cope with cravings. Participating in a 12-step program can help you learn new tools to overcome your problem with addiction. For example, you may learn common techniques to cope with cravings while hearing what works (or doesn’t work) for other people. Practicing these new techniques and learning from others’ experiences can help you better understand your relationship with drugs or alcohol.
  6. Reclaim your life and self-worth. Many first responders say they feel “lost” or “overwhelmed” when thinking about addiction and how their substance use has affected their lives. Entering a 12-step program can help you feel a new sense of purpose. The 12 steps help you forge healthier relationships with friends and family members, healing bonds that may have been strained or broken. Additionally, recognizing that you are powerless to control your drug or alcohol use is an important step on the road to reclaiming your life. By entering a 12-step program created specifically for first responders, you can be sure that other group members understand your struggles in a way that no others truly can.


  1. Moos, R. & Timko, C., Outcome research on 12-step and other self-help programs, Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment, 2008,
  2. Laudet, A., Attitudes and beliefs about 12-step groups among addiction treatment clients and clinicians: toward identifying obstacles to participation, Substance Use and Misuse, 2003,

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