When I first heard the word “alcoholic,” I used to think of a bum living on the street. My imaginary alcoholic had not bathed or taken care of their physical hygiene for months and had lost most of their teeth. My alcoholic would have a brown paper bag clutched in his hands or in his rear pocket, and there was no way he was losing that bag, for it contained the life-sustaining juice. I had the mental picture of someone begging for change. Often they would say they were hungry and needed money for food. If you offered them food instead of cash, they became angry with you because they needed the money to buy another drink of choice. The mere sight of this shell of a human stirred feelings of fear and some loathing.
Today I understand that an alcoholic can be almost anyone — a doctor, an actor, law enforcement officer, pilot, etc. Alcoholics are people who go to work daily and perform their jobs. They are referred to as “functioning alcoholics.” Although they seem to be functioning, they are usually not functioning up to their potential. The image I have of an alcoholic today is drastically different. I do not fear or loathe alcoholics. I know that almost anyone in the world may be or has the potential to be an alcoholic. I do not believe that there is anything to be ashamed of if one is an alcoholic and seeks out treatment. There is no more shame than a person seeking treatment for cancer or some other pervasive disease.
Alcoholism is a progressive disease, in the sense that things do not take a turn for the better while the alcoholic is still drinking. Over some time, there will be physical and mental deterioration. A person may be coming to work with a hangover, thus affecting their job performance. They may begin to call in sick more often due to a hangover or still being drunk from the night before. They may find themselves being angry with the world because it is not in step with their immediate needs. Family problems may develop, and life in general will take a turn for the worse. In a nutshell, everything starts to go wrong that could go wrong.
Most alcoholics will blame all of these troubles on everyone and everything around them. Not until they accept the fact that they have a disease and seek treatment will things get better. One of the main problems with this disease is the denial that a person has the disease. Usually, the alcoholic is the last person to figure out that he/she is an alcoholic.
Many in law enforcement are reluctant to obtain professional help in fear of administrative consequences or termination. It’s more likely to face disciplinary issues if alcohol problems are not addressed. You can discuss 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) 738-3500. It is available to you, your spouse and your family, and it’s free. If you are sworn, the Peace Officer’s Fellowship is open. 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.