During the holidays, many law enforcement officers head to the bars, ready to relax with a few and put the job on the back burner. Unfortunately, many deputies and other first responders drink more than just on the occasional holiday; they often use alcohol as a coping mechanism year-round to handle highly stressful jobs and to steady their unavoidable exposure to trauma. When drinking becomes the stress relief of choice, it can add up to an alcohol abuse problem and eventually alcoholism.Some experts suggest that as many as 25 percent of law enforcement officers are living with an alcohol-use disorder. Comparatively, as of 2015, it was estimated that about 6.2 percent of the American general population was living with alcohol-use disorder, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), making the rate of alcohol-use disorders among police officers about four times greater than that of the civilian population.
Law enforcement is routinely faced with chaos; deputies deal with disorderly conduct, fatal car accidents and shootings, and are constantly exposed to violence, distress and death. The schedules can also be grueling. Deputies often work mandatory rotating and overtime shifts that prevent them from spending time with their families or getting enough rest. Law enforcement today endure more stress than they did 30 years ago. Public scrutiny has increased while team camaraderie has faded, and many worry about issues related to political correctness and cultural diversity as well as ever-changing laws. Numerous factors contribute to stress, which is conducive to substance abuse. Then there are the dangers of the job: critical incidents, working changing shifts, sleep deprivation, etc. A study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that moderate sleep deprivation can affect performance as much as excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption is common among law enforcement. Alcohol is consumed to decompress, socialize or alleviate a physical pain or traumatizing memory; this can often contribute to unintended alcoholism.
Years ago, police culture did acknowledge the adverse effects of stress on officers. Law enforcement agencies take these issues more seriously today. The Los Angeles Police Department has Behavioral Science Services (BSS) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has Psychological Services Bureau (PSB). These programs help police officers and deputies with stressful life situations that happen to everyone, but these services are unique in that they have police psychologists who specialize in law enforcement-related situations. Embedded in PSB is the Substance Abuse Resource Program (SARP), which addresses varying degrees of alcohol and drug abuse issues that adversely affect Department members and their families.
If you need assistance with alcohol abuse or an addiction problem or if you have questions about the resources available, you can call me, Deputy Willis Braggs, at PSB at (213) 738-3500.
We have law enforcement psychologists ready to provide confidential help to assist you. If you are sworn, Peace Officer’s Fellowship (POF) is available. You can contact one of the members from the list here; they will be more than happy to assist a fellow deputy.