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Relapse Prevention Tips for First Responders

First responders are constantly on the frontlines working to keep our communities safe. In the process, they’re subjected to incredible amounts of stress, anger, and trauma. It’s common for first responders to develop substance use issues as they attempt to self-medicate under these circumstances. Drug and alcohol use combined with the continued toll of work can lead to a destructive cycle. Fortunately, programs are designed to help first responders recover from substance use disorders and develop the tools they need to protect themselves against relapse.

Substance Use Disorders and Relapse

Substance use disorders are chronic medical conditions. As with other chronic conditions like cancer and diabetes, relapse is fairly common. In fact, roughly half of all people recovering from substance use issues will relapse at least once during the recovery process. Don’t let that discourage you from seeking help! Since relapse is often part of the recovery journey, it’s not a personal failing if it happens. When drugs like prescription painkillers are used—even when used correctly—they rewire the way your brain experiences pleasure. When you stop using them, it takes time to get your mind and body back on track.

Stages of Relapse

It’s important to recognize early warning signs of relapse. The process happens in stages.

  • Emotional – Recovery programs teach you how to take care of yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally. You learn how to develop healthier eating, sleeping, and other lifestyle habits. You also learn healthier coping strategies for the stresses of work. If the job’s hazards become too much, if you’re not getting enough sleep or if any of those areas start to falter, your emotional state can weaken—priming you for the next stage of relapse.
  • Mental – If an emotional relapse isn’t recognized and treated, you might start thinking about your past experiences with drugs or alcohol. It doesn’t always begin with fond memories of using. You might start reaching out to old friends or revisiting places that were connected to those times. You might feel the need to lie about your current struggle with friends and family. Eventually, it can progress to cravings for those old experiences.
  • Physical – When emotional and mental relapse conditions go unchecked, you’re in danger of succumbing to physical relapse. That’s why it’s vital to recognize the early stages and take measures to protect your recovery.

How First Responders Can Avoid Relapse

Putting the knowledge and skills, you acquire in recovery to use can help you avoid relapse. Identifying potential relapse triggers and developing healthy ways to deal with them is part of any good treatment program. Maintaining a healthy diet, as well as getting plenty of exercise and rest, keeps your body operating at a high level. If you’re already at the mental stage of relapse, ask for help. Family, friends, a sponsor, or therapy are all potential lifelines that can keep your recovery efforts on track.

Relapse Prevention Training for First Responders

What starts as a drink or two with the crew after a hard day on the job can become a serious problem. Injuries sustained at work can lead unexpectedly to dependence on prescription painkillers. Sometimes it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself when your focus is on protecting others.

Cycles of Change Recovery Services has a specialized program for first responders. Our staff understands the trauma, depression, anxiety, and more that come with the territory, and we provide compassionate, personalized care. No two people are alike, so your treatment program will be tailored to fit your needs using various therapy models. If you’re a first responder in need of help, or if your loved one is struggling with the weight of the job and substance use issues, contact us today.


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