Working in law enforcement, we know stress all too well, if not better. Throughout our career, we come face-to-face with unpredictable, life-threatening situations and victims of traumatic incidents. As a result, we find ourselves wanting to get rid of the day’s stress. For some of us, consuming alcohol becomes a regular response to dealing with the exposure to human violence and tragedy.
Some research on alcohol abuse has suggested that peace officers have a higher rate of alcohol consumption and binge drinking when compared to the general population. In a 2011 study, 18.1 percent of male officers and 16 percent of female officers were described as suffering from “adverse consequences” from alcohol use. In addition, 11 percent of male and 16 percent of female officers admitted to engaging in risky levels of alcohol use during the past week.
Sometimes, we discover the history of problem drinking in a deputy’s family. When you pair that with personal stress, cumulative work stress, negativity and violence experienced on the job, an environment is created where alcohol abuse can begin and thrive. Employees can also begin drinking to cope with unhealthy sleep cycles due to shift work rotations that regularly switch from days to nights, or working special units that require putting in long hours.
For new recruits who don’t necessarily enter the Department with an alcohol problem, the acclimation to the law enforcement culture can contribute to alcohol abuse behaviors. As they begin attending social gatherings where alcohol consumption is encouraged, it can eventually become part of the recruit’s lifestyle.
Elevated drinking can also occur as a result of a critical incident or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While you can develop PTSD from your job in law enforcement, some could have existing PTSD from the military or childhood trauma. These symptoms can be activated by the experiences faced in the line of duty. The training we receive teaches us to be guarded, and showing emotion on the streets or in custody can be perceived as vulnerability. There are many in law enforcement who are reluctant to obtain professional help in fear of administrative consequences and termination. It’s more likely that you will face disciplinary issues if alcohol problems are not addressed. You can address your drinking in a confidential setting.
If you find yourself in any of these situations, please reach out for help. Call Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-350. It is available to you, your spouse and your family, and it’s free. If you are sworn, POF (Peace Officer’s Fellowship) is available. You can contact one of the members listed here and they will be more than happy to assist a fellow deputy. If you are non-sworn, feel free to contact me for AA meeting resources.