Alcohol abuse has long been recognized as a significant issue throughout society, impacting individuals’ health, relationships and overall well-being. This serious issue is not only affecting deputies but everyone working in the law enforcement community. The perceived stress related to working in law enforcement has been identified as a risk factor for maladaptive coping behaviors such as excessive drinking and alcohol abuse. Additionally, frequent exposure to high-stress situations in the line of duty can have a detrimental effect on one’s psychological well-being. As a result, the prevalence of alcohol use among law enforcement personnel is alarmingly high. As stated in a study conducted among Australian police officers, as much as “33% of men and 24% of women” were found to be in the “at-risk for hazardous alcohol consumption” category.
Alcohol misuse and abuse within the law enforcement community can be attributed to various factors, including the high levels of stress and trauma frequently experienced. It is a behavior that is widespread yet often underreported.
The consumption of alcohol often starts as a social activity, such as a few drinks after a shift, but can develop into a coping mechanism to deal with the pervasive challenges all too common in this line of work. Research indicates that substance abuse among law enforcement officers may be linked to the cumulative effects of trauma. This raises important questions regarding the long-term effects of trauma and the need for effective coping strategies. These findings highlight the need for comprehensive support systems and resources to address mental health and well-being.
One approach to addressing alcohol abuse in law enforcement is to engage in education and training related to healthy coping, including information on the potential risks and consequences of alcohol abuse, as well as alternative strategies for managing stress and trauma. This could also include learning about the benefits of a workplace culture that is less focused on alcohol consumption. Additionally, clear policies and procedures regarding alcohol use, promoting a zero-tolerance approach to alcohol abuse on the job and establishing procedures for identifying and addressing alcohol-related issues among personnel can be helpful.
It is crucial to recognize and address the underlying causes of stress within the law enforcement profession. This includes addressing systemic issues such as long work hours, high-stakes decision-making, exposure to traumatic events and limited resources. We can benefit from prioritizing regular and routine mental health screenings, allowing for the potential identification of issues early on and the provision of appropriate support and interventions. Encouraging a workplace where partners support each other’s choices regarding alcohol consumption and feel comfortable declining a drink without judgment can also be a step toward shifting the culture. In addition, creating an environment where personnel feel comfortable seeking help and being transparent about their struggles can help reduce the stigma associated with alcohol abuse and facilitate early intervention.
Psychological Services Bureau (PSB) addresses varying degrees of alcohol- and drug-use issues that adversely affect Department members and their families. In 1975, members of the Sheriff’s Department and the LAPD developed the Peace Officers’ Fellowship to advance the 12-step program begun by Alcoholics Anonymous, an environment for and by law enforcement personnel. Since the beginning, the Department has assisted employees with various issues related to the abuse of and dependence on substances such as alcohol and prescription medication. The Substance Abuse Resource Program coordinator and the Law Enforcement psychologists at PSB are committed to assisting all personnel with making appropriate choices to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Call the office at (213) 738-3500 if you wish to get more information regarding treatment facilities or other resources.