First Responders Substance Use Disorder and PTSD Treatment

TruVida Recovery Orange County

First Responders Substance Use Disorder and PTSD Treatment

TruVida Recovery Orange County

First Responders – Dealing With Substance Abuse And Mental Health   

First responders experience daily stress and trauma, which can increase their chances of developing an substance use or mental health disorder. Even with the specialty training they receive, the constant exposure to horrible images of destruction, fire, injuries, violence and death can take its toll.

While they bear the immense responsibility of saving lives, at times, they might be too late. Sometimes death has already occurred, as in the case of a reported homicide. Besides law enforcement, other first responders include paramedics and firemen, combat veterans, park rangers, corrections officers, emergency medical technicians (EMT’s) and other rescue workers.

First responders can include firefighters, paramedics, police, active duty military, corrections officers, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and other rescue workers. Often, the images and situations they encounter during their day-to-day jobs can lead to an array of trauma related disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder and other co-occurring disorders.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD symptoms include recurring nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive, upsetting memories, stemming from their experiences while overseas. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, veterans who have been affected by PTSD include 31% of those who served in Vietnam, 10% of the military that served in Desert Storm, 20% of Iraqi war veterans, and 11% of veterans from the war in Afghanistan.

Once afflicted with PTSD, war veterans are privy to depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideations. Reliving a horrifying memory can cause panic attacks and intense depression. According to a 2015 Vanity Fair article on PTSD and the military, many soldiers reported that seeing other people die, including the enemy is one of the more traumatic events that they have ever experienced in their lives.

Outliving the incident, while others die, is called survivor’s guilt, which is a feeling that other first responders are privy to experiencing, especially if they were not able to save those whose lives were in danger, or if they are confronted with a homicide that occurred after they were alerted of a posing danger to life.

Prevalence Of Addiction Among Firefighters And First Responders

Resorting to drugs, alcohol and tobacco provides temporary relief, until substance addiction sets in. For first responders, admitting that they have been traumatized by their experiences can be taken as a sign of weakness, and some are at risk for losing their badges or jobs by disclosing that they need help. And their fears are not far from the truth.

According to a 45th Space Wing News article, illicit drug use among active military personnel remains at a low level, most likely because of the military’s zero tolerance policy towards drug use. Random drug testing is often conducted among active military personnel to ensure that this strict policy remains in effect. Discovery leads to humiliation, and a dishonorable discharge. However, while abuse of illicit drugs remains at a low, abuse of prescription drugs is greater among service members than among the public and it’s getting worse.

According to the Clinical Psychology Associates of North Central Florida, P.A., approximately nine percent of first responders reported heavy alcohol use (five or more days of binge drinking) within the past month, 

Additionally, the work of a first responder is physically hazardous, and when harmed on the job, painkillers are often prescribed. Once the injured individuals realize that their painkiller provides temporary relief for their emotional, as well as physical pain, an opiate addiction is right around the corner. Another huge issue that first responders face is alienation from society.  

According to the Killology Research Group, law enforcement and solders are part of a subculture, where civilians are known as sheep. Criminals, and the enemy are the wolves. And the police, and veterans are sheep dogs that protect the sheep from the wolves. While this is a great metaphor, one notices the invisible wall that divides these “warriors” from the rest of society.

Signs of Addiction and Mental Health Issues in First Responders

There are various ways to tell if someone is struggling with addiction or mental health issues. Both physical, outward signals and more subtle psychological symptoms may help in identifying if someone is in trouble.

Possible Alcohol and Substance Abuse Indicators Include:

  • burned fingers or lips, or needle marks on arms
  • slurred speech or  stuttering
  • appearing lethargic or falling asleep randomly
  • has trouble maintaining eye contact
  • struggling to recall specific details
  • experiencing lapses in memory or complete blackout of events
  • has dilated or constricted pupils that do not change when exposed to light
  • tremors, shaking or twitching of hands and eyelids
  • difficulty concentrating, focusing or completing a task
  • hyperactivity or appearing overly energetic
  • impaired coordination
  • appearing distracted or disoriented
  • needing direction constantly
  • extreme mood swings
  • struggling to make decisions
  • appearing fearful or anxious or having panic attacks
  • increasingly angry or defiant
  • needing assistance with basic tasks like filling out paperwork
  • being impatient, irritated or highly irritable

While the first responders are more likely to abuse alcohol, prescription drug abuse is also a major issue among firefighters and first responders. Due to the physical demands of their jobs, it is common for first responders to obtain prescriptions for addictive painkillers. There is also an increased availability for first responders to access medications on the course of their duties or on-the-scene.

Drug Rehab for First Responders

When it comes to substance addiction, first responders require clinical, evidence-based treatment for their substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders. Additionally, peer support is crucial in healing feelings of loneliness and despair. It’s important for licensed professionals who work with first responders to have the experience and compassion that is required.

At TruVida Recovery, we are sensitive to the needs of the brave men and women who risk their lives on a daily basis in order to be of service to civilians in danger. Our addiction center for first responders offers the specialized treatment that you require. Our clinical team will provide you with an individualized treatment plan that will help you recover from the damages of substance abuse, as well as mental health issues like PTSD, trauma, and stress.

Therapy Methods for PTSD Treatment

Our evidence-based modalities include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a problem-focused and goal directed therapy, behavior modification counseling, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), motivational interviewing, which implements change in high-risk lifestyle behaviors, and bio-sound therapy which focuses on helping clients with trauma.

Learning relaxation techniques can help first responders control stress, as well as the onset of panic. We offer meditation and yoga to help clients get grounded, alleviate stress and feel inner peace.

Additionally, many first responders experience shame, and regret. At TruVida, we implement a 12-step approach, where our clients find inner serenity by connecting to a Higher Power of their understanding. Our 12-step processing workshops allow clients to make peace with their pasts, remove feelings of guilt, learn how to live in the moment and feel hope for the future, knowing that recovery will provide their lives with new meaning, and fortify them with a strength that comes from working the steps.

Reach Out for Help – Contact TruVida Recovery Today 

The road to long-term recovery starts with the first step. Our helpful and friendly sober coaches and staff are ready to answer your questions.

Call Us Anytime… Any Day:  (800) 218-1573

or feel free to send us an email or fill out the Form “How Can We Help You ?”, both located below…

Accreditations You Can Trust

Dr. Venice Sanchez


Clinical Outreach Specialist, Europe Division

Dr. Sanchez works closely with Truvida Recovery patients regarding substance abuse and related mental illnesses and creates a supportive, cooperative and informed therapeutic environment. Her areas of expertise include Substance Dependence, Dual Diagnosis, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Generalized anxiety disorder, Panic Disorder, Bereavement, Acute stress disorder, and more. Ms Sanchez has extensive training with experts in the field of Substance Abuse, and mood and thought disorders underlying the substance use. She received a Bachelor’s degree from University of California, Los Angeles and Medical Degree from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. She continues training at the UC Irvine Psychiatry Residency Program and has been recognized with the Outstanding Resident of the Year Award.

Jaime Askew


Clinical Director

Ms. Askew is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor who has been working in the field treating substance abuse and mental health issues for over twenty years.  She obtained a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, with an emphasis in Marriage, Family, & Child Counseling from Pepperdine University and was among the first to obtain the LPCC license in the state of California.  She has been providing clinical supervision and training to interns, conducting workshops, and is a certified Trauma therapy trainer.  Her areas of expertise include working with legal issues, court ordered treatment, family preservation, trauma therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, family systems, social skills training, play therapy, and career/ vocational counseling.  Her passion is in advocating for at risk populations, holistic healing, and treating the underlying, core issues to help individuals achieve their maximum potential and happiness.  Jaime’s extensive experience and passionate leadership is of extreme importance to the overall TruVida clinical program, and her hands-on guidance of our clinical team insures that each patient is receiving optimal therapeutic treatment and care.

John Biroc

Consulting Psychologist

Dr. Biroc has a broad base of mental health and addiction recovery training and experience. He has supervised and taught therapists in various methodologies of effectively working with groups and individuals during therapy. He created and set up new group structures and trained staff in understanding the challenges of addiction recovery. He also helped develop curricula in Sociodrama and Psychodrama. Dr. Biroc is devoted to breaking paradigms that prevent progress in the path to lasting recovery. He is a member of the Nat’l Association of Marriage and Family therapists, and has a Ph.D. degree in Psychology, and a M.S. degree in Counseling from USC.

Dr. Nader Siahdohoni

Consulting Psychologist


Dr. Nader is one our esteemed consulting Psychologists who provides our Clients with various breakthrough therapy’s that focus the functional systems including neurons, neurotransmitters, and certain brain waves that enable the way we think, behave, move, feel, and maintain homeostasis. Such therapy’s include NeuroMax neurofeedback, the state of art integrated technology in Neurofeedback, combinations of wireless Electroencephalogram (EEG), real time brain mapping and a unique and exceptional neuropathway therapy called “Visual Concentration Attention Therapy (VCAT)”. Dr Nader graduated from Walden University.

Tiffany Agra


LMFT #103693

Ms. Agra is a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, who has been working with individuals, couples, families, and groups for the past seven years. Her other therapeutic approaches include Narrative Therapy, Family Systems Theory, Psychodynamic dream interpretation, and Gestalt Psychology. She has also been a Guest Speaker at other organizations. This unique background has made her effective at helping clients overcome the grip of substance addiction. Tiffany obtained two Bachelor’s degrees from the University of California, Davis, and her Master’s degree from the California State University, Long Beach. She has worked for both the county of Orange and Riverside, helping those who struggle with addiction and mental illness. In addition to providing evidenced-based approaches to the clinical program at Truvida Recovery, she brings her compassion as a fellow addict in recovery; living proof that we do get better!

Deborah Wieland


MS, LMFT #96864

Ms. Wieland is an Eclectic EMDR Therapist, using R-TEP and G-TEP, and specializes in several modalities in treating Substance Use issues, Dual Diagnosis, Complex Trauma, and Severe Mental illness. Deborah also provides several types of therapy such as Psychodynamic, Rogerian, CBT, DBT, IFS, PICT, MI, Grief Recovery, Sand Tray, and Attachment Theory to help her patients achieve mental wellness and a sober lifestyle.

She has worked with Psychiatric Hospitals providing crisis interventions and psychotherapy to those struggling with substance abuse issues, mental health issues, and domestic violence. She completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at Vanguard University of Southern California. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Summa Cum Laude and a Master of Science in Clinical Psychology. She is currently completing her Doctoral studies in Clinical Psychology at Cal Southern University. Deborah is an active member of EMDRIA, California Association Marriage Family Therapist (CAMFT), American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), and Psi Chi International Honors Society of Psychology.

Ashley McLaughlin



Ms. McLaughlin is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in EMDR therapy. She brings over ten years of experience working in the field of addiction to the Truvida Team. She obtained a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from Pepperdine University and has two Bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Economics from University of California, San Diego. Ms. McLaughlin was trained in EMDR in 2013 and since has been helping individuals process through past traumatic experiences that have contributed to current struggles with substance abuse and mental health symptoms. Her extensive experience and passion for this field has helped guide individuals through the process of recovery in order to experience freedom from their past and a hope for their future.

Travis Taylor



Mr. Taylor is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in  Drug Abuse & Addiction,  PTSD, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality, Codependency, Coping Skills, Depression, Dual Diagnosis. Taylor uses an integrative approach geared towards understanding self, specifically what drives one’s thoughts and behaviors. He excels in helping patients identify automatic thoughts that lead to specific feelings and undesired actions. Another useful approach stems from understanding how thoughts and behaviors are fueled by former messages that have been consistently reinforced. Travis has over 6 years of therapeutic practice and obtained a Master’s degree at Vanguard University.

Kat Johnson

AOD Counselor, Group Facilitator

With almost 10 years experience working at treatment centers, Kat Johnson shares her wisdom and passion for balanced living, creative writing, and meditation and how each plays a role in early recovery and beyond. Certified as a CADC II, and supported by a bachelors in psychology, Kat’s infectious energy brings her groups to life. She is grateful for every opportunity to spread health and wellness.

Paige A. Chastain

AOD Counselor, Case Manager

Ms. Chastain has dedicated her life to helping the suffering addict/alcoholic, bringing personal experience to both individual substance abuse and group counseling settings. She has worked in the field of addiction for several years, currently working as an addiction counselor and case manager.  Paige too, is a collaborative member of the multi-disciplinary team providing excellence in addiction services, working with clients from detox to intensive outpatient levels of care. She holds a strong skill-set in Psychoeducation, Motivational Interviewing and Dialectical Behavior Therapy.  She also has extensive experience with 12-step recovery programs. Paige is passionate about treating the client with empathy, compassion and respect throughout the client’s journey.  Paige holds an AA from Saddleback College, a BA from the University of California of Irvine and is a certified CADC-I holding memberships with CCAPP and NAADAC.

Lesley Richards

AOD Counselor, Interventionist

Ms. Richards began in this field of healthcare as a volunteer for substance abuse treatment centers and worked her way up from there. Lesley has dedicated her life to helping the suffering addict. it is here strong belief that everyone deserves to have the opportunity to have a safe and sober life.  She is very compassionate about her work as an addiction counselor, and has a strong commitment in helping patients struggling with addiction in developing healthy coping mechanisms, and developing new positive behavioral habits.  Her Group counseling sessions are highly sought after within the TruVida program.  Lesley is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC), National Certified Intervention Professional (NCIP), Nationally Certified Recovery Coach (NCRC), and is a member of the California Consortium of Addiction programs (CCAP), as well as the International Association of Addiction Professionals.

Christine Green

Treatment Facilitator

Christine Green is a certified personal trainer, and yoga instructor. Ms. Green is dedicated to helping patients struggling with substance abuse transform their lives through a consciousness-based approach to body-in-motion fitness.

Christine passionately shares her 18 years experience with our clients by sharing her specialized Yoga & Energy Healing Program, which she has developed over the past 8 years of working directly with addicts and alcoholics. Her Yoga program facilitates integration of all the layers of life – environmental, physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual with the primary initial goal of overcoming withdrawal symptoms and cravings from drug and alcohol dependency. TruVida is fortunate to have her as part of the team.

Allison Goode

Art in Recovery Counselor

Allison Goode is a lifelong resident of Laguna Beach and professional artist for over 15 years, and has developed a very successful and trans-formative Art in Recovery program in treatment facilities through out California. Her passion for the fine arts and helping others recover from substance abuse addiction is contagious. Allison has a unique ability to connect with clients through the creative process helping clients set positive goals for their recovery. Ms. Goode has studied Fine Art and Graphic Design at Laguna College of Art and Design, is a certified RADT1 technician, and is currently completing her CCAPP certification program.

Thomas Mladinich

Admissions Manager

Mr. Mladinich hard work ethic and dedication make him a key part of the TruVida team. Tom’s ability to connect and relate with others have allowed him to excel as admissions manager. His personal experience has allowed him to proudly serve those in need of recovery from addiction. Tom is eager to work with our clients and provide the experience, strength and hope that they need to find success in recovery.

Willie Sanchez

Operations Manager

Mr. Sanchez is a self-motivated professional with a positive attitude. He is actively involved in a 12 step fellowship. He effectively contributes to each Patient with their struggles with addiction. Willie is RADT1 certified counselor and has been educated at Long Beach City College.

Jose Flores

Program Manager

Mr. Flores is a highly motivated and hardworking team member with TruVida. He has several years of experience working in treatment helping individuals get back on track, achieving a lot of great results. He brings problem solving skills and experience to use everyday, and is proud and passionate about his profession as a RADT-I program manager.

Dr. Andrew Morrow

MD, Psychiatrist


Dr Morrow is a member of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology Psychiatry, who specializes in the treatment of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, thought disorders, other mental health issues, and substance abuse addictions. Having undergone extensive training in medical school, psychiatric residency and over 15 years of psychiatric practice, he is well trained in both psychotherapy and medication management of mental problems. Dr Morrow integrates psychological, and social characteristics with biological therapy to treat the whole person; mind, body, and soul, and it is with great humility that he pursues the goal of freedom from substance abuse addictions.

Dr DeSanto conducted his undergraduate education at St. Louis University with a B.S. in Chemistry graduating summa cum laude. He then attended medical school at St. Louis University School of Medicine, and completed his residency training and served as chief resident at University of California, Irvine Medical Center.