Five Causes of Substance Abuse Among Police Officers
Below are five key causes of substance abuse among Police Officers:
According to American Addiction Centers, high-stress careers are linked to abuse of drugs and alcohol. Police work definitely qualifies as high stress. Some may argue that more police write tickets and have desk jobs than are involved in shootouts, but plenty of other officers face harrowing dangers. Even a routine traffic stop could turn into a life-or-death situation. As American Addiction Centers points out, career pressures like that can lead to mental health issues and can turn Police Officers to substance use as an escape.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) points to trauma, whether direct or indirect, as a cause of post-traumatic stress disorder. People usually associate PTSD with veterans, but other professions that encounter trauma, such as first responders and Police Officers, can also experience it. Repeated exposure to life-threatening situations coupled with having to regularly deal with other people’s crises subject a police officer to chronic stress. The 2020 Community Policing Dispatch notes that up to 15% of law enforcement officers in the U.S. have PTSD.
Viral videos of officers beating or shooting apparently unarmed suspects have contributed to a negative public perception of the police in recent years, and the reputation of the law enforcement community has suffered. This negative perception takes an emotional toll. A police officer may decide to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs as a way of dealing with that.
Even with such public criticism, police have traditionally been hailed as heroes. They may feel a need to live up to that image and could have a tough time admitting their vulnerability. Some mask the pain with alcohol or drug abuse. Seeking treatment may not be easy for law enforcement professionals because they associate it with the stigma of mental disorders.
A recent survey of 248 law enforcement officers identified the stigmas associated with seeking mental health treatment as a key reason that those who needed help didn’t seek it.
Police work is rarely nine-to-five. A 10- to 12-hour workday and overtime shifts are part of Police Officers’ schedules. Shift work like this has been associated with health concerns, both physical and mental.
The isolation and erratic sleep patterns of shift work are linked to depression. Long-term shift work has been connected to major depressive disorder. A study published in the 2020 Journal of Depressive Disorders notes that a quarter of those who suffer from major depressive disorder also abuse alcohol and drugs.
Police Officers’ long hours coupled with the other stressors may increase the chance of substance abuse.