Undoubtedly, police officers have one of the most difficult jobs in the world. They’re often faced with the worst of the worst regarding what the world has to offer, and it can be sad, depressing, and frustrating. It’s often reported as one of the most stressful jobs, and yet it’s one many people are entirely dedicated to. All-too-often unfortunately, alcoholism with police officers is a relatively common occurrence.
Some police officers use alcohol as a way to cope with the daily stress of their job, or as a way to self-medicate for depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. There are others who might have alcohol conditions stemming from genetics or the environment they grew up. If someone comes to a law enforcement career with a predisposition for alcoholism, they can be triggered by the stressful and often grim situations they face on the job.
While that can seem incredibly high, it’s a figure that’s on the low side compared to many other studies. Other studies have shown the rate as high as 33 percent, and the numbers tend to be higher when officers work in an urban environment.
Researchers believe the occurrence of alcohol abuse among people in law enforcement is double what’s seen among the general population, and the tendency to develop an alcohol abuse problem tends to go up the longer someone works in law enforcement.
For example, one survey looked at officers in their first year, and none of the surveyed individuals had an alcohol problem, but by their second year it went up to 27 percent, and 36 percent by their fourth year.
Alcoholism with police officers isn’t the only problem that occurs at higher rates than the general population. Law enforcement professionals tend to have higher suicide and divorce rates as well, and both of these situations are associated with alcoholism.
- Stress and danger: There is rarely a time when law enforcement officers aren’t under intense stress. The job is inherently dangerous, and officers walk into uncertain situations every day. They frequently must confront people who are armed and dangerous, violent, angry, or mentally disturbed. The job has likely become even more stressful over recent years as officers have faced scrutiny and large-scale publish backlash.
- Criticism: As was touched on, police officers have been under intense scrutiny in the past few years, and many officers feel they aren’t appreciated and that they’re ridiculed. There is research showing how the attitude of the public towards law enforcement has both negative physical and emotional impacts on police officers.
- Ups and Downs: As well as the stress and danger of being in law enforcement, there are frequent ups and downs that can wreak havoc on a person’s emotional state. For example, officers may have long periods where nothing at all is happening, and short periods where they’re in an extremely tense or dangerous environment. This can have a big impact on mental health, and people can use alcohol to self-medicate.
- Schedules: Law enforcement officers work shift-based schedules, so they may have several long shifts in a row, with several days off. It can cause them to feel fatigued which can lead to anxiety and depression, and it can be difficult to get into a healthy routine with the odd hours of police officers. Many officers also work side jobs, which can just add to the difficult scheduling, stress, and fatigue.
- PTSD: PTSD is frequently talked about in the veteran community, but it’s something that’s prevalent among police officers as well. Law enforcement professionals see disturbing and often haunting things on a regular basis, and it can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. There are estimates showing roughly 1 in 8 officers has PTSD. Often when someone has PTSD, they will attempt to self-medicate with substances like alcohol.
There are also a lot of demands placed on officers by their superiors, resources are often stretched thin, and there tends to be the notion that law enforcement officers need to suppress their emotions, all of which may also contribute to the high rates of alcoholism and alcohol use disorder with police officers.
Unfortunately, alcoholism with police officers isn’t just terrible for the officer and their family, but it can lead to dangerous situations both at work and outside the job such as aggressiveness, anger, a lack of focus, and time taken off work.
If you’re close with someone who is a police officer and you suspect alcoholism is an issue, it’s best to contact an addiction professional to see what the next steps could be.