The high-stress nature of the jobs that first responders do can be a risk factor for substance abuse, mental health disorders, and substance use disorder (SUDs). During their time of service, many first responders, like police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and EMS workers, develop behavioral and mental health issues. This includes PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), depression, and anxiety. 

First Responders and Substance Use Disorders

Around half of the first responders with mental health disorders also develop substance use disorders. One out of every four police officers on duty has drug or alcohol abuse issues. They are also twice as likely to suffer from depression and three times more likely to commit suicide due to emotional distress when compared to the general population.

While there are many reasons why first responders may turn to substance abuse, some of the most common include self-medicating to cope with the stresses of the job, numbing emotional pain, and dealing with chronic pain. 

Police Officers and Alcohol Use

Police officers face a great deal of stress and trauma due to their occupation. As a result, many officers routinely witness devastating and disturbing events such as murder, suicide, domestic violence, and illicit drug abuse.

 In addition to the threat of physical harm, police officers are under tremendous stress regarding their roles and their perception by the community. As a result, substance use disorders are common in police officers because many officers turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with the stress of their job. 

 A 2010 study of police officers working in urban areas found that 11% of male officers and 16% of female officers reported alcohol use levels deemed “at-risk” by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Researchers attributed the high alcohol consumption rates among police officers to social and stress-induced drinking behaviors. 

Of the social factors identified in hazardous alcohol consumption, the primary was drinking to “fit in” with peers; 25% of police officers report drinking “to be part of the team” during social outings. 

The most important contributor to SUDs in police officers was job-related stress, with 47% of respondents reporting that work stress was a significant factor in their decision to drink.

These findings suggest that substance abuse among police officers is a complex problem with both social and psychological roots. To address this issue effectively, programs must be implemented that target both individual officers and the culture of police departments as a whole.

Signs of Substance Abuse Issues

Addiction and mental health issues are serious problems that can lead to physical, social, psychological, and behavioral changes. Signs of a substance use problem may include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Dilated pupils
  • Impaired coordination
  • Lethargy or falling asleep randomly and suddenly
  • Speaking very quickly or slowly
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Having panic attacks
  • Uncharacteristic and extreme impatience or irritability
  • Tremors, such as shaky hands or twitching eyelids
  • Difficulty maintaining eye contact
  • Trouble concentrating, focusing, or completing tasks
  • Lapses in memory or blackouts
  • Inability to complete basic tasks, like filling out paperwork
  • Being very distracted or disoriented
  • Making inappropriate choices or decisions that don’t make sense

If an individual is exhibiting the symptoms above, it may be time to seek professional help.

Stigma and Seeking Help

First responders, such as police officers and firefighters, are at a higher risk for substance abuse disorders than the general population. Substance use disorders can lead to several problems, including on-the-job injuries, deterioration of job performance, and strained relationships with family and friends.

SUDs and mental health conditions are often taboo subjects, especially in the workplace. This can create a unique set of challenges for police officers who may be struggling.

Police officers may worry about being treated differently by their peers or superiors at work, whether it involves being perceived as “weak,” or not getting promoted. They may also believe that their supervisor would not be willing to communicate about mental health issues in the workplace openly. 

These concerns can lead to feelings of shame and isolation, making it difficult for police officers to seek the help they need. As a result, many officers suffer in silence rather than risk jeopardizing their careers.

Treatment Options

It is important to create a safe and supportive environment in the workplace so that police officers feel comfortable seeking treatment for SUDs and mental health conditions. Many resources are available to help police officers get the treatment they need. 

Treatment for substance use disorders in police officers typically includes a combination of:

  • Individual and group therapy
  • 12-step programs
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Family therapy, and 
  • Drug and alcohol detox

Cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy have been proven to be significantly beneficial when grouped with other individuals from similar occupations. Police officers who seek treatment for SUDs can receive comprehensive care that addresses both their physical and psychological needs. 

With the right level of support, police officers can overcome their addiction and return to a healthy and productive life. By reaching out for help, officers and other first responders can start on the road to recovery and continue to serve their communities. 

Police officers have stressful jobs with long hours. The job requires quick decisions while bearing witness to trauma and tragedy regularly. Add in the public perception of policing and police officers in general, and the stress rate goes up even further. Police officers are at risk for substance abuse disorders at a higher rate than the general population. There are many reasons for this increased risk, including the high-stress nature of the job, easy access to drugs and alcohol, and the culture of drinking within the police force. In addition to its impact on the lives of individual officers, substance abuse can lead to corruption, misconduct, and erosion of public trust in law enforcement. Police officers often fail to get help due to stigma and misinformation. Vanity Wellness Center can help. For more information on treatment for officers struggling with substance abuse, call us at (866) 587-1737.

Categories: Vanity NewsTags: , By Published On: June 5th, 2022

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