If you’re in law enforcement and struggle with substance misuse, you may be worried about seeking treatment. After all, part of your job is to address drug-related crime. While you may be concerned about losing your job if you seek treatment, it’s helpful to know that discrete treatment programs for law enforcement professionals are available. It’s also important to recognize that the demands and stress of working in law enforcement increase the risk of PTSD and substance misuse. The bottom line is that you’re not alone, and specific treatments can meet your needs as a law enforcement professional.
Signs & Symptoms of Co-occurring Mental Health Disorders & Substance Abuse
If you’re a law enforcement officer struggling with substance misuse, you may meet the criteria for co-occurring disorders. This term describes people who simultaneously experience a mental health condition and a substance use disorder. Some signs of co-occurring disorders include:
- Poor work performance
- Suddenly getting into repeated arguments with friends or coworkers
- Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
- Sudden changes in personality
- Behaving in a secretive fashion
- Outbursts of anger or unexpected mood swings
- Reduced motivation
- Anxious or paranoid behavior without explanation
- Extreme hyperactivity
- Asking for money
- Physical changes, like weight loss or gain
- Changes to the eyes, such as bloodshot eyes or small pupils
- Coordination problems or slurred speech
- Strange smells on the body, breath or clothing
- Declining physical appearance
How Can Police Officers Reduce the Risk of Mental Health Issues?
While law enforcement officers may be at increased risk of mental health and substance use disorders, there are steps they can take to reduce stress levels and lower their risk of mental health problems. Some of the following self-care strategies can be helpful:
- Practicing deep breathing techniques during stressful situations, such as arrests
- Seeking social support outside of work hours
- Talking about distressing experiences with colleagues
- Engaging in self-care activities, such as intense exercise, yoga, walking, meditation or gardening during off time
- Disengaging from work when off the clock
How Can Police Officers Reduce the Risk of Substance Abuse?
In some cases, substance misuse among police officers can be a form of self-medication for stress or trauma arising from work. You can reduce your risk of substance abuse by practicing healthy stress management and taking steps to promote strong mental health.
Some additional strategies for reducing the risk of substance abuse include:
- Avoiding triggers, such as friends who are misusing drugs or alcohol
- Developing healthy coping strategies, such as intense exercise or strenuous gym workouts
- Drinking within moderation if choosing to drink
- Seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder or any other mental health condition that may co-occur with substance misuse
Discretion & Types of Treatment for Police Officers
Discrete treatment options are available for police officers who struggle with substance misuse. It is helpful to understand the available care levels to choose the best treatment.
For people dependent on drugs or alcohol, medical detox is often the first step in treatment. A drug detox program provides around-the-clock supervision and medical care to keep you as comfortable as possible as you withdraw from drugs or alcohol.
Inpatient rehab programs offer 24/7 care, requiring people to live onsite at the treatment facility while in recovery. While these programs have the advantage of removing people from triggers within their daily life, it can be difficult for a police officer or other law enforcement professional to take time away from work for an inpatient program discreetly. For those with moderate to severe addiction, this may be the best option for getting better.
Outpatient rehab programs are flexible and can be a good fit for police officers with milder addictions who want to attend treatment without their employer knowing. An outpatient program allows you to continue living at home while attending appointments at a local treatment facility. You can schedule appointments around your work hours, so no one has to know you’re in a rehab program.
Dual diagnosis programs treat both mental health disorders and substance use disorders. Integrating treatment is the best option when living with both conditions. If a substance use disorder goes untreated, mental health symptoms may return, and vice versa.
After completing a treatment program, many people engage in aftercare services, such as period counseling sessions or support group meetings, to help them stay committed to recovery. You can easily integrate these services into your life without interfering with your work schedule.
Teletherapy through our Nobu app is an excellent option for people needing to continue working while in rehab. This form of treatment allows you to work with a treatment provider virtually. You may participate in live video therapy sessions using video conferencing software or exchange text messages with your therapist. There is no need to report to a physical office for sessions, and you can access treatment from the privacy of your home.
Your health records are kept confidential when you seek substance use disorder treatment. In most instances, a substance use treatment facility cannot disclose information about you to anyone without your written permission because of confidentiality protections.
Police officers experience significant stress on the job and may suffer from trauma-related symptoms because of exposure to violence and life-threatening situations. Distress and trauma may lead police officers to self-medicate with substances.
There is a high overlap between mental health disorders and substance misuse. Multiple explanations for this overlap exist. First, the same risk factors, like stress and trauma, can lead to both mental health disorders and substance use disorders.
Furthermore, people with mental health conditions may use drugs as a form of self-medication. Finally, drug and alcohol misuse can lead to brain changes that increase the risk of mental health conditions.
Research has shown that law enforcement officers experiencing PTSD may use alcohol as a coping mechanism. Alcohol can help people temporarily avoid trauma-related symptoms, like flashbacks or memories of the event.
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U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Mental Health and Substance Use Co-Occurring Disorders“>Mental H[…]ing Disorders.” March 10, 2022. Accessed December 9, 2022.
Jetelina, Katelyn, et al. “Acceptability of a real-time notification of stress and access to self-help therapies among law enforcement officers.“>Acceptab[…]ent officers.” BMC Public Health, 2022. Accessed December 9, 2022.
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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.