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Addiction Within The Police Force

Addiction Within The Police Force

Posted: September 7, 2020 by in Hope Recovery Addiction Center

Anyone can struggle with addiction: medical professionals, athletes, and even officers battle addictions every day. There is alcoholism in law enforcement, and there are officers who struggle with all kinds of substance abuse. Many are suffering in silence due to the job’s stress, not knowing where to get help and worry about losing their job. If you are a member of law enforcement battling substance abuse, you are not alone. Give us a call at 918-779-0011 to discover more about recovery options in your area. We can help you on your journey to sobriety for a happier and healthier life. 


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Police Substance Abuse 

Police officers are three times more likely to suffer from addiction than other individuals. Psychology Today says:

One out of four police officers on the street has an alcohol or drug abuse issue, and substance use disorders among police officers range between 20% and 30% compared to under 10% in the general population.
Addiction to either alcohol, opioids, or even severe narcotic drugs is common among law enforcement. The reasons behind these alarming facts are because of the conditions of the job.

An essential fact to illustrate: just as one in four police officers turn to substance abuse, one in four police officers has also thought of committing suicide. Being a police officer is a stressful job. Being in life-threatening situations combined with extreme stress and strange hours has caused officers to turn to alcohol or drugs to cope.

Conditions of the Job

Alcoholism in law enforcement is incredibly common. Drinking alcohol isn’t bad unless it becomes something one relies on all the time. Usually, police officers and alcoholism go hand in hand due to the conditions of the job. Unfortunately, being a police officer almost guarantees the individual to witness and experience stressful events. These situations are often traumatizing and, over time, can cause psychological conditions such as PTSD.  

 There is a scholarly article called ‘Police Trauma and Addiction: Coping with the Dangers of the Job.’ According to the report:

Researchers have identified four occupational demands that can trigger alcohol abuse by police officers: reacting unemotionally to the daily stresses of the job (depersonalization), strict demands from police managers, organizational protection of officers from criticism, and everyday awareness of the dangers of the job.

There are few jobs where someone sees murders, domestic abuse, and drugs almost every day. It is common for police officers to desensitize to these events. Police officers are often not adequately taught how to deal with the stressful aspects of their job. In addition, police departments tend to be the type of “boys’ club” that stigmatizes asking for help as a weakness. 

This stigmatism leads police officers to turn to substances for self-medication. But you may know the pitfall already: if they become too dependent, then they won’t tell anyone that either.  

Injuries on the Job

Misuse of opioids among police has also increased over the past couple of years. Police officers can get shot on the job. They can fall while chasing down a suspect, or they can tear their shoulder while defending themselves against a criminal. In short, there are countless possibilities for a police officer to injure themselves on the job, which means numerous potential injuries requiring pain medication.

Police work is dangerous but physically demanding. According to the International Association of Police Chiefs website, “an officer may develop chronic pain due to wearing a heavy gun belt or driving around in a patrol car for hours at a time. In either of these situations (injury or chronic pain), an officer may be prescribed a prescription opioid painkiller by a well-meaning physician.”

Police substance abuse also feeds on the fact that the job gives relatively easy access to drugs. They are confiscating drugs while on the job, and then they have access to evidence lockers. This is an unfortunate reality. The officer might steal the drug to sell, or because they have become addicted to a substance and don’t know what to do to stop. They have the temptation of the materials that are right in front of them each day.

Fear and Stigma

Police officers and substance abuse are a toxic mix within the ranks. Fear and stigma are strong motivators. If a police officer experiences stress due to something that happens on the job, they should seek help. However, they often won’t.  

Simply put, police officers suffer from various psychological illnesses. This goes back to the stigma mentioned earlier. Fears and stigmas feed into police officers’ vicious cycle of not speaking up. Not speaking up leads them to use substances for comfort rather than seeking help. 

Mental Health and Substance Abuse 

Mental health problems have always come with a stigma attached. Thankfully, in recent years society is beginning to learn more about the seriousness of mental health. But mental health is very complicated inside the police force. 

For instance, every officer has a partner. Your partner should have your back. Due to the job’s risk, it is natural for an officer to become uneasy if they believe their partner isn’t focused. They feel compelled to stay quiet if they struggle with mental health issues because they do not risk being a bad partner.  

It is slowly becoming more understood that the life of a police officer could be traumatizing. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. According to Psychology Today, since police work can be strenuous, “such stress has consequences in mental health issues and addiction. Between 7% and 19% of police officers have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, as compared to 3.5% in the general population.” A police officer’s life is stressful to the point of producing PTSD or a substance abuse problem.

Consequences For An Officer

Some officers report that even if they know they need help, they fear disciplinary action or losing their job. This needs to change. Seeking help for substance abuse should be the right decision. 

The officer’s addiction can continue to grow if they do not seek help. It can become quite horrible when they are surrounded by illegal substances all the time. If an officer begins to steal drugs from the evidence, there will be consequences. If a police officer is stealing and using drugs from the evidence, they can lose their badge. It is not only serious because they stole from work and took illegal drugs, but also because it is technically evidence-tampering. It could also lead to criminals walking free. 

The officer will not face jail time; however, unless what they have done is extreme, such as selling the drugs they took. The most unfortunate part is that situations like this are avoidable if officers ask for help when they need it.

Intervention and Treatment

If a police officer sees signs of alcoholism in law enforcement, or any police substance abuse for that matter, they need to speak up. Pushing past the stigma and judgment has to start somewhere.

An intervention can handle one on one or in a private group setting with friends and family. Address the individual officer with love and concern. Let them know that you care for their well-being. Hopefully, it results in the officer accepting treatment. 

Specifically, when it comes to treatment with police officers, they have a better recovery when adding therapy into their current environment. Also, programs that help police officers deal with stress. The treatment will all depend on the individual.  

Whether it be the stress of the job, mental health issues, or chronic pain, we are here to help officers struggling with addiction find the help they need. Call today, and let us help you find the way forward.  

Written by Julia Bashaw

addiction within the police force


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