We all experience stress in life; sometimes when we’ve had a bad day, we drink a beer or have a glass of wine to take the edge off. In reality, having a client yell at us, getting into an argument with our spouse or teenage son or daughter, or having the computer system go haywire in the middle of the workday pales in comparison to what cops go through.
Stress? Law enforcement officers know all about it, if not more than we do. They deal with traumatizing situations on a daily basis. For example, they deal with domestic violence, homicides, and hardened criminals every day. With constant exposure to daily stressors, many officers struggle to cope with the trauma.
From watching your partner get killed, to being shot at during a routine traffic stop, to watching car accident victims die before you, to responding to horrific reports of child abuse, it’s no wonder why officers turn to the bottle to numb the pain.
Law Enforcement and Substance Abuse
There are countless stories that demonstrate the links between substance abuse and working in law enforcement. One of the greatest causes stem from the fact that officers are continuously exposed to stressors that far exceed the normal range of human emotions. For many law enforcement officers, drinking alcohol is an acceptable response to dealing with these overwhelming emotions.
According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, research indicates that officers consume alcohol at a greater rate than the general population. Further, in the field of law enforcement, the effects of cumulative stress is associated with an increased risk of alcohol abuse, with the odds a whopping 3 to 1 for cops.
What links alcohol abuse to law enforcement:
The IACP reports that the following factors link addiction to law enforcement:
- Cumulative stress (job-related)
- History of alcoholism in the officer’s family
- Dealing with extremes, negativity and violence on the job
- Unhealthy sleep cycles due to their schedules
Often, a new recruit will enter the force without any addiction issue, but due to the acclimation of police culture, they slowly develop habit-forming behaviors. Trying to fit in, new officers start hanging out at local police bars, and over time, the reality of officers’ social lifestyles become a part of the recruit’s normal routine.
Alcohol & Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Alcoholism can occur as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Officers can develop PTSD from their jobs as police officers, or they can enter the force with existing PTSD symptoms due to military experience or from childhood trauma, with symptoms being “activated” during the line of duty. As a result, they turn to alcohol to cope with the pain.
Alcoholism in law enforcement is a widespread problem for reasons that we can understand. While our firm frequently defends average people against DUI charges, we’re more than happy to fight for the officers who put their lives on the line every day to protect our safety.