Police Substance Abuse

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Police officers are an important segment of the community. Without them, it would be difficult to maintain law and order of the society. However, it would be unrealistic to imagine that these individuals would not indulge in the same behavior that ordinary individuals do. They have the same stressors as any other individual. Though some might be able to deal with their stress in a better way than others, it does not make them superhuman. There is an increase in the number of police officers who have been abusing substances in the United States. The main reason as to why they have been doing so is because of their inability to cope with stress and traumatic events in life. Sadly, that is not the proper way to deal with stress or issues. Police officers should have proper measures in place to deal with any and all sorts of stressors, without having to resolve to abuse substances. ??

Alcohol and Substance Abuse Among Police Officers


It would have been very difficult for people all over the place to live in peace if they did not have armed forces to ensure balance and protect the citizens. These individuals play a major role in protecting the communities. They go through the great extent to do so, mostly putting their own lives at risk, the tough and stringent routine that these individuals have tended to affect their health and perception. At times to deal with that immense pressure and the long hours, these individuals tend to turn towards drugs and alcohol. That would not be an issue to worry about, but there are times when these officers end up abusing these substances where it puts them and those around them in danger. Substance abuse is way more common among police officers than it is believed to be, and it is something that needs to be addressed and resolved for the sustainability of the entire community.

The purpose of this assignment is to understand substance abuse among police officers. First of the paper will discuss what substance abuse is, and when does it become an abuse. Following that, a look into substance abuse among police officers will be discussed. The different types of substance abuse will be discussed and explained. The reason as to why police officers end up abusing substances and how it impacts them will also be highlighted. After that alcohol abuse among police officers, and the danger it has for the police officers and those around them is discussed. In the end, the article discusses measures that should be taken to protect police officers from substance abuse, specifically alcohol.

Substance Abuse

It can be called drug or substance abuse. It is an abuse of the substances or drugs because the amount or method in which they are being consumed by the individuals is harmful to their health or that of others. That can be termed as a disorder related to drugs or substance. Being under the influence of drugs can have a severe impact on the social behavior of the individuals (Ray & Ksir, 2002). It is not only the short-term impact which is worth worrying about, but regular use of drugs and in un-administered amounts can alter the individuals' personality and have negative impacts that would last for a long time. Along with having social, physical and psychological impacts on the individuals who take these drugs, there are also criminal penalties which would be imposed on them.

There are a number of drugs which are associated with substance abuse. Some of these include alcohol, weed, cannabis, opioids, cocaine, benzodiazepines, and variously substituted amphetamines. There can be various reasons as to why an individual tends to abuse the substance. The two most common theories behind that are: either there is a genetic disposition which the individuals learn from those around them, or they tend to develop addictive behavior, which becomes a chronic disease.

The abuse of drugs is not limited to any specific segment of the population. Both men and women of every race have been found to abuse substances. Some of the drugs that are used by these individuals are qualified as high-risk drugs, which can create severe physiological, physical, and social problems. In some case, it can also cause the death of the users. The worst sort of substance abuse is that of alcohol, which is something found to be very common among police officers in the United States.

Substance Abuse among Police Officers

It is very common for police officers to find themselves in the middle of chaos and difficult situation. It is not something out of the blue for them. They have to work under pressure at all times and deal with various misconducts, accidents, shootings, and other issues. If that were not enough to deal with, these individuals also are expected to work grueling hours. They are required to work mandatory overtime and rotating shifts. These unrealistic expectations leave little to no time for them to get rested or to even spend with their families. That results in increased levels of stress among the workforce, which leaves them feeling burdened and pressured. Along with that, the increasing layoffs, budget cuts, and negative exposure, all add to the level of stress. One way that these officers turn to when dealing with that stress and anxiety is the use or more correctly abuse of drugs and substances.

The main reason so to why there is such a shocking increase in the number of police officers who end up abusing substances is the increasing levels of stress that they have to face. Along with that, teams no longer have the same comradeship that they once, and also, they are subjected to a lot of scrutiny from the public. They are also brought into the issues of political accuracy, cultural differences, racism and constantly changing laws and regulations.

Trauma and Substance Abuse

The link between trauma and substance abuse can be traced back to the Vietnam War. Ever since then, there has been a lot of research on these two and the relationship that they have. Trauma is found to have a severe impact on the physical and mental health of individuals. Individuals who are exposed to such events which are distressing tend to have a lot of disorders related to stress. It has been found to cause crucial effects on the cognitive, emotional, physical and behavioral changes among individuals being exposed to stress. In turn, that can have negative impacts on the level of productivity among the individuals, their social functioning and well-being.

Those individuals who have posttraumatic stress disorders and found to also have a tendency to abuse alcohol (Javidi & Yadollahie, 2012). The reason as to why these individuals resolve to consume harmful amounts of alcohol and other drugs is because these individuals are unable to deal with the trauma that they faced effectively. Rather than helping them cope with the issues that they face, alcohol abuse results in worsening the situation that they are in. As a result, these officers end up being in a vicious cycle of addiction, where they tend to consume more and more alcohol to deal with their psychological issues. However, in reality, the increased consumption of alcohol only harms their physical and mental health.

Another reason as to why police officers tend to end up abusing alcohol is that the nature of their job puts them under much more stress and pressure when compared to the jobs of civilians. While being under constant fear of being harmed themselves, they also face regular traumatic and troubling situations, which results in an increase in the stress that they experience. Also, there are certain expectations that the society has of them, which they are required to fulfill under any and every situation. It is not necessary that every individual has the same capacity or capabilities when it comes to dealing with stress. Some would have the better resilience to stressful and traumatic events than other (Berger, et al., 2012). That does not mean that anyone is better than the other, rather it is the individual capacity of each and how much they can endure.

Another issue is the lack of training related to dealing with stressful events. Thus, even if an individual does not have the capacity to deal with stressful events, proper training can improve and enhance their capacities. Therefore, when such training is not available to police officers, it only ends up putting them in a tough situation. That ends up with the individuals consuming more alcohol and other substances, as the only option.

Special Consideration for Treatment

Critical Incident Debriefing has been found to be instrumental in reducing addictive drinking behaviors after a person goes through trauma. That needs to be done with a trained professional. However, as per research, in order to have a more significant impact on reducing stress, and thus drinking and substance abuse problems, day to day coping strategies are also very important.13. Police officers who wish to treat their alcohol abuse problems need to look into healthy and effective measures for reducing stress, and anxiety that is caused to them as a result of daily stressors. A lot of police organizations provide Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) that provide support for the treatment of alcohol abuse. Being highly confidential, these programs are very effective at reducing alcohol abuse. They are also very familiar with the particular and specific struggles that police officers face, and that makes them invaluable. 14, 15 A very helpful part of the treatment programs for dealing with alcohol abuse problems in Police Officers is community-based self-help programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous. That is because these programs are discrete and can offer protection to police officers from any stigma associated with seeking treatment for alcohol abuse.

Alcoholism Among Police Officers

A study conducted in 2010 showed that around 11% of male and 16% of female officers working in cities had been found to consume levels of alcohol which are considered too harmful and at risk by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (Ballenger, et al., 2010). There could be numerous reasons as to why police officers might abuse alcohol. For instance, they might over consume alcohol due to the social pressure to fit in the society. That might not seem such a huge issue, but peer pressure in that regards can have severe consequences not only for the individual who indulges in over-consumption of alcohol but everyone around him, whether it is friends, peers, a family of criminal.

A survey conducted in 2001 showed shocking results of 31 percent individuals believing that those officers who do not drink are viewed as unapproachable and lacking social skills (Swatt, Gibson, & Piquero, 2007). One would think that a police officer would have a better understanding as to why other officers do not drink, but that does not seem to be the case. Since these individuals spend a lot of time with one another, due to the nature of their job and the long work hours that they have, it is easy to give into peer pressure.  As seen in the current case, it does not even matter if it results in something negative and injurious such as alcoholism.

Alcoholism is not something that should be taken lightly, specifically among police officers, as they are responsible for the care and welfare of the entire community. There are a number of negative reasons as to why police officers might resolve to consume alcohol, apart from peer pressure. Some of these issues are discussed in the following pages.

Nature of Job

As already discussed, the nature of the job of police officers is the primary reason as to why they might end up consuming way too much alcohol. To deal with the unnecessary stress and anxiety which is born out of the job, police officers usually resolve to drink (Lindsay & Shelley, 2009). Even though it is not the most sensible thing to do, they do it as it is the easiest way to temporarily forget about the traumatic event that they might have experienced.

Work Schedule

Most of the time officers work in rotational shifts. At times they will have a very long shift, while on other days they might not have such long shifts. That it might seem like a flexible routine, but it does not allow these individuals to rest up or have time for any other things in their life. Such routines leave them drained, tired, irritated and short tempered. It can also reduce their capacity for thinking critically, evaluating things effectively and coming up with solutions. It also adds to numerous health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Since these individuals would have to cover up the cost of their alcoholism, they might end up working side jobs, which can leave little to no time for them to rest up.

Post Trauma Issues

Most of the time it is forgotten that these police officers are human beings by the end of the day. It might be their job to investigate a horrible crime scene, but that does not mean it would not have an impact on their psyche. Going through a stressful event can result in a severe posttraumatic stress disorder among these officers. If it is not treated on time, it can really have a negative impact on the officers personal and professional life. Individuals suffering from PTSD might end up using various drugs to deal with the problem (Pietrzak, Goldstein, Southwick, & & Grant, 2011). If the drug use is not administered, it can have the opposite impacts than what is desired. For instance, the use of alcohol is very common for temporarily numbing emotions and pain. However, in the long run, it will only create more problems than resolve them.

Negative Publicity

Police officers it has been going to a lot of negative publicity. They are under severe and intense scrutiny from the general public, specifically following the massive shootings that are taking place all over the country, every year. These shootings have resulted in a massive public outcry and unrest. What people don't understand is that that would have a negative impact on the perception of the police officers. They would feel underappreciated despite the extent to which they go for the general public. Thus, to deal with that ridicule, they end up over consuming alcohol. 

Signs and Symptoms of Drug of Alcohol Abuse

Individuals who abuse substance tend to undergo some sort of a behavioral change. Most of the time it is a negative change which affects their productivity and overall performance. Some of the common signs of substances abuse among officers might include the following. Outbursts of anger, Lack of focus, Aggressiveness, Increase in vehicular disasters, Frequent medical leaves and Unkempt appearance

Along with such aggressive behaviors, these officers who abuse substance also tend to show symptoms of withdrawals. Some of the most common signs of withdrawals are Body pains and aches, Depression, Anxiety, Irritation, Sweating, Queasiness, Diarrhea, and Dilated pupils. Though these symptoms might seem to be very common, officers should not decide to deal with them without any professional help. Since it is not a normal situation, it can end up worsening the situation and their health. Under worse scenarios officers can have seizures; they can go into a coma; or even worse die. Thus, it is best that they seek professional help.

Protection Against Alcoholism and Substance Abuse

In the past, the negative impact of stress on Officers was ignored in the police culture. However, today's police culture takes these issues more seriously, with support channels being opened up in order to assist those who are involved with substance abuse.

Peer Support Units

In San Diego, many police officers were fighting a losing battle against addictions to a variety of substances, including alcohol, steroids, and prescription drugs. To assist the officers, the SDPD created the Wellness Unit, aimed at assisting officers to overcome their addictions, and substance abuse issues. Led by a captain, that is made up of five officers, with the sole responsibility of handling personal problems of officers, and non-exclusivity, meaning everyone can use these services.

The program has been utilized by over one-third of the SDPD and has seen a lot of success in helping officers overcome issues ranging from domestic problems to DUIs. As per the former chief of police in San Diego, Bill Lansdowne, stress should be managed by all police departments. Similar programs were also developed by the Los Angeles Police Department, as well as the Baltimore Police Department in order to assist their employees in overcoming substance abuse.

 Treatment and Support Services

Many options are available to law enforcement officers for overcoming substance abuse, with treatment being the most effective.


Psychiatrists are instrumental in assisting officers to overcome substance abuse. Their tactic is to use therapy sessions aimed at changing the perception of drugs or alcohol by a person and creating a perspective towards living a healthy, and productive life.

 Police Chaplains

Being spiritual resources, police chaplains provide counseling to officers through guidance and prayer. They also arrange spiritual workshops for managing stress, leading an ethical life, and having a happy family life.


Most of the time, an officer is reluctant to seek help, fearing disciplinary action, and thus continues to engage in excessive use of alcohol, drugs and other substances, which worsens their situation. To overcome addiction and substance abuse, treatment is a viable option, and there is no shame in that. There are comprehensive treatment services for meeting a diverse range of needs. There are also rehabilitation facilities for alcohol and drug users, with a wide variety of care.


Alcoholism within the law enforcement in the United States is widespread, which is something that every few would know of or believe. Some statistics show that every fourth officer working on the streets has a problem of substance abuse. That is a very shocking statistic, for a segment of the community that is supposed to protect others from ending up abusing substances. Yet, it is not completely their fault in that regards.

Police officers are an important part of any community, without them, it would be very difficult to maintain the peace and order in the community. The nature of their job is what makes them unique, as they are constantly exposed to trauma and stress. It is the nature of their job, and lack of necessary corrective and protective measures that they the chances of substance abuse among them have high probability. It can be either a way for them to deal with the increasing levels of stress and anxiety or the increasing societal pressures that they face. Though they might not realize it soon, if these individuals do not administer and control their alcohol consumption, it can have negative impacts on their health, personal and professional lives. They might not be as productive at work; it might affect their mental health, and result in creating dysfunctional environments in their homes.

It is the responsibility of the entire community, specifically the government and their colleagues to ensure that these individuals do not go down the wrong lane. There is a need for reforms in the law enforcement sector to ensure that these officers have a work and personal life balance so that they do not feel compelled to resort to overconsumption of alcohol to deal with work-related stress and anxiety

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Police Substance Abuse. (2019, Nov 18). Retrieved June 15, 2024 , from

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