12-Step Program for First Responders

First responders face unique and challenging work conditions in the line of duty. They see and deal with situations that most can only imagine, whether they’re firefighters, law enforcement officials, EMTs or paramedics, military veterans, or correctional officers.

Through mental and physical training, first responders learn to react to critical situations with calm and expertise, helping them save lives. But often, this comes at a cost to themselves. First responders turn trauma inward, sometimes leading to substance use and addiction.

Dealing with the Stigma of Substance Use and Addiction

Acute stress and PTSD are common among first responders. These professionals are exposed to traumatic situations and face overwhelming pressure in the line of duty almost every day.

In addition, the work culture of first responders emphasizes strength, camaraderie, and brotherhood, leading to a distrust of outsiders (including mental health professionals) and a stigma around seeking help. They may believe they can shoulder the burden on their own or fear shame and judgment from their colleagues or department.

In the care of trained, culturally competent healthcare professionals, this shame and judgment can be relieved. They can let go of the stigma and the sense that they must “go it alone,” freeing them to discuss the real issues at the core of their substance use.

12-Step Treatment for First Responders

Pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous, the 12-Step Program is a well-known strategy for combating substance abuse and addiction. These principles guide the outline of a recovery plan for addiction, often bringing people together with others in recovery to offer support.

The 12 steps, as defined by Alcoholics Anonymous, include:1

  1. Admitting that you are powerless over alcohol
  2. Surrendering to a higher power
  3. Deciding to turn your life over to the higher power
  4. Making a moral inventory of yourself
  5. Admitting the exact nature of your wrongdoings
  6. Being open to the higher power removing any defects of character
  7. Asking for your higher power to remove your shortcomings
  8. Making a list of people you have harmed
  9. Making direct amends with people
  10. Continuing to monitor your behavior and admitting wrongs
  11. Seeking to improve your connection with the higher power
  12. Practicing these principles throughout your life and helping others with them

This therapy emphasizes acceptance, surrender, and involvement. When someone accepts that addiction has control over them, they can move forward. They also understand that willpower is not enough on its own, which is vital to first responders.

Staying active in the 12-Step community and attending meetings is vital to the program’s success. This is also what makes the program so successful.

Despite common misconceptions, the 12-Step program is not grounded in religion. Though some of the undertones are religious, the emphasis is on letting go of ego and surrendering to a higher power, which is simply committing to something greater than oneself – being present in the moment.

Is the 12-Step Program Right for Me?

Many addiction treatment programs involve elements of the 12 Steps. Many people benefit from adapting the 12 Steps as part of a tailored treatment plan, which is what we offer at The Unified Wellness Center. Contact us today to learn more about our 12-Step Program for First Responders. We’ll work with you to form a treatment plan tailored to your needs.


[1] https://www.aa.org/the-twelve-steps


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