Addiction in Law Enforcement Personnel

Addiction in law enforcement has never been as big a problem as it is right now. Even so, it's an issue that many people tend to gloss over; even those who work in law enforcement, who may see addictions developing all around them. The fact is that most people see police officers, state police, and sheriffs as public servants who are charged with keeping the peace and making sure everyone is safe. They rarely seem them as infallible human beings who are capable of developing addictions like everyone else. The truth is that law enforcement personnel are capable of becoming addicts, and it's so important to recognize this so that those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol can get the help that they so desperately need.

Perhaps you work in law enforcement and you've been doing your best to hide your addiction from everyone around you. You've hidden your drug and alcohol abuse from those who work with, from your superiors and even from your family, and you're tired of living that way. Or, it's possible that while you do use drugs or alcohol on a regular basis, you feel as though it's something you're in control of. Regardless of what your personal situation is, it will help you to learn as much as you can about drug and alcohol addiction in law enforcement officials so that you can get the help you need to recognize the truth about your substance abuse and possibly get assistance to overcome an addiction.

Law Enforcement and Addiction

Statistics for Addiction in Law Enforcement in the United States

Because addiction among police officers is becoming such a serious problem, there is now a lot of information known about cops who have addictions. Addiction is something that law enforcement professionals deal with on a regular basis. Drug addicts and drug dealers are responsible for many of the crimes that take place in the United States today. So, while offers are very skilled and quite capable of handling drugs and addicts on the streets, their agencies are not quite as skilled at handling addiction when it afflicts many among their own ranks.

According to Police Magazine:

  • As many as 25% of police officers have addictions to either alcohol or drugs.
  • This number is more than twice the average national rate for addictions among civilians.
  • Many of these police officers should be diagnosed with PTSD, but they're not. They often will turn to substances as a way to self-medicate.
  • 11% of male officers and 16% of female officers reported regular alcohol use levels that deemed them to be "at risk."
  • In 2007, close to 40% of police officers in the United States reported one or more problem drinking behaviors.
  • 31% of police officers view other cops that don't drink as suspicious and unsociable, which indicates that there is a great deal of pressure to drink alcohol and fit in among law enforcement personnel.

Clearly, addiction in the law enforcement field is much more serious than most people realize. These shocking statistics cannot be denied or ignored, and it's so important for those who are working as police officers to understand that trying to maintain an addiction is no way to live their lives.

Are You an Addicted Cop? How to Find Out

You may be a police officer who is participating in substance abuse, but you're not really sure that you have what most people would refer to as an addiction. While it's true that you do use drugs and alcohol more often than you should, it's still something that you feel in complete control of. After all, you have a great job, a family at home, plenty of friends, and a wonderful place to call home.

As you probably already know because you work in law enforcement, sometimes addiction strikes the most unlikely people, and it is possible for you to be an addict even if you don't feel as though you are. There are some common signs of addiction you can look for that are typical for police officers that have them. These include:

  • Your once stellar level of work performance has been slipping recently, whether the issues are mental or physical.
  • You are frequently late for work.
  • You've been exhibiting strange behavioral patterns, such as irritability or mood swings.
  • You are experiencing problems with your relationships at home.
  • You are having financial problems.
  • You go through withdrawal symptoms when you haven't been able to use drugs or alcohol in quite some time.
  • You're finding that you're having problems with some of the people you work with.
  • You're struggling with symptoms of depression or anxiety since you started using drugs or alcohol.
  • You experience memory loss or temporary blackouts.
  • You feel that you need to use substances just so you can feel normal.
  • You use drugs or alcohol at times when you told yourself you wouldn't.
  • You take big risks in order to obtain drugs or alcohol.
  • You're secretive about how much or how often you use substances.
  • You need to use larger amounts of drugs or alcohol now than you did when you first started using, which indicates that you've developed a tolerance.

It's important to recognize when you have an addiction that has become beyond your control, and even though that's hard for someone in your position, the sooner you can recognize it, the faster you can get the help you need. If you're still not sure, and you need more information about whether or not you have an addiction, it might help to take an addiction quiz. By answering just a few questions, you'll be able to understand whether or not you have a serious problem that needs to be addressed professionally.

Drug and Alcohol Use Among Police Officers: Why is it Such a Big Problem?

Today, so much more is known about what leads to addiction when compared with what we knew just a few years ago. We know that genetics play a role in addictions, as well as addictive personalities and mental health issues. When it comes to those in law enforcement, we know that there are so many challenges these individuals face that leave them susceptible to becoming addicts. Some of these include:

  • Sleep Deprivation: This is a major problem for those who work in the law enforcement field. Many police officers work various shifts that are constantly changing. That makes it nearly impossible for them to create a sleep schedule for themselves and stick to it. They may take on overtime shifts, or even work second jobs as a way to supplement their income. In cases such as these, taking medications to help with sleep are very common, and those who do so will often find that they grow reliant on other medications (stimulants) to help themselves wake up. Over time, this can develop into a dangerous cycle that's impossible to escape without professional help.
  • Stress: Working in law enforcement is an incredibly stressful job, and most civilians don't realize the amount of stress that cops face on a regular basis. Being a police officer presents a unique combination of danger and tension that would cause issues for anyone if they were subjected to it long enough. Cops are frequently exposed to death, accidents, tragedies and injuries, which means that their stress levels are often off the charts when compared to someone who works in a different field.
  • Drug Access: Some of the most common types of crimes that police officers have to deal with on a daily basis are related the production, use and distribution of street drugs. When drugs are confiscated, they are generally processed properly, tagged and kept as evidence. However, pieces of evidence go missing all the time, and the same is true for drugs that have become evidence. Because police officers are also in contact with drug dealers regularly, it is not uncommon for them to form inside relationships with them for the purpose of obtaining drugs for their own personal use.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD goes beyond the ordinary type of stress that many police officers face on their jobs, and it moves into a category all its own. PTSD is a serious problem for police officers, and yet, many of them are reluctant to admit that they have a problem that needs to be treated. Instead, they choose to self-medicate this disorder in an attempt to take care of it themselves. Drugs and alcohol are both used by cops to reduce their symptoms of PTSD.
  • Lack of Personal Time and Relationships: Because law enforcement officials often have to work such long and strange hours, they definitely lack when it comes to spending time with the people they love the most. This can cause them problems in their interpersonal and family relationship, and not having time for themselves can also encourage them to turn to substances as a way to get comfort.
  • Injuries on the Job: If you ask any police officer, getting injured on the job is something that is often just par for the course. It happens to everyone, and when it does, they go to the doctor to get help. Doctors are often quick to prescribe addictive medications without giving their addictive nature much thought. Because of this, many cops will become addicted to their prescription drugs unknowingly or by accident.

Substance Abuse and Cops: The Most Popular Substances

For the longest time, alcohol was considered to be the most popular substance for those who were in law enforcement. It was just a part of their culture, and there wasn't enough information out there to deter police officers from drinking socially with each other or with their friends. Today, we know the dangers of alcohol, and how easily it is to become an alcoholic. Even so, that hasn't seemed to stop many cops from choosing to continue their destructive drinking behaviors. In fact, binge drinking is actually much more common among police officers than those in the general public.

In addition to alcohol, anabolic steroid abuse is very typical among law enforcement professionals, and it's easy to see why they would be so appealing. Being a police officer is a very strenuous job, and in order to keep up with its demands, officers will often obtain anabolic steroids as a way to make sure they stay in shape.

Prescription pain medications are also among the most abused drugs for cops, and because so many officers are injured on a regular basis, it's relatively easy for them to keep getting the prescriptions they need to provide themselves with pain relief, and to feed their addictions.

Do Police Officers Abuse Drugs or Alcohol on the Job?

It makes sense to assume that a large number of police officers will actually abuse drugs and alcohol while they're on the job. Through rigorous self-training, they will become high-functioning addicts, and it doesn't help that many police departments and cities have regulations in place that will allow them to use while they're working.

According to NBC in Chicago, there are a number of suburban areas in the United States that will allow police officers to have alcohol in their systems while they are in duty. Some permit a BAC up to .08, while others restrict the BAC to being at .05.

As far as other drugs go, there seems to be a camaraderie or a sense of fraternity among police officers that allows them to use drugs while they're working in many instances. Quite often, if a police officer notices that something is off about his or her partner, it will be overlooked. These situations only tend to fuel the flames of addiction for law enforcement personnel who really do need to get professional help for their addictions.

Addicted Law Enforcement Officers and the Reluctance to Ask for Help

The biggest reason why so many police officers are reluctant to ask for help with their addictions is because they're attempting to live up to the image of a cop. They're viewed by the public as strong individuals who are impenetrable. They're seen as resilient and tough, and anything that strays from that implies weakness. For a police officer, his or her job is to look up the "bad guys," and admitting that you have much more in common with them than most people think is an attack on your pride.

Another issue that often keeps those in law enforcement from admitting that they have drug or alcohol addictions is the fear of losing their jobs. It makes sense because they feel that they can't escape being arrested for breaking law because it's their job to uphold the law. They fear being charged with drug offenses and having to go to court to defend themselves, and there's nothing worse than worrying about having to spend time in jail or prison with inmates whom they have put behind bars themselves.

There is so much at stake for police officers who are abusing drugs or alcohol, and it's very common for them to simply ignore their addictions and continue on in their lives as though nothing was wrong.

Help for Colleagues: Identifying Addiction in Someone You Work With

If you suspect that a colleague of yours is struggling with an addiction, it is probably instinctual for you to just ignore it, or hope that it goes away. Too many addiction problems have been allowed to continue for police officers until something is done so that the individual gets the necessary help. You're most likely aware of an unspoken "code of silence," and you feel bad about breaking it, but you know that something needs to be done.

It's important to keep in mind that addiction is a disease, and it's not something that goes away. Like other diseases, it's progressive, and it only gets worse as time goes on; especially when it is ignored. If you're wondering whether or not a fellow officer has an addiction problem, there are a few things you can look for, and these include:

  • An increase in the number of accidents your colleague has.
  • Demonstrating a lack of focus or concentration on the job.
  • Changes in your colleague's attitude.
  • Taking a lot of time off or sick time.
  • Demonstrating poor grooming habits.
  • Developing aggressive behavior toward the public or even toward other officers.
  • Signs of withdrawal symptoms

You may want to start by having a conversation with the officer about what you've noticed and suggest treatment, but if that doesn't work, it's important to bring the addiction to the attention of a supervisor.

Help for Families: Encouraging Your Loved One to Get Professional Help

If you are a family member of someone who is a police officer, and you're concerned about your loved one's addiction, you're absolutely right to have that concern. Being a cop is such a dangerous job, and there's nothing you want more than for your family member to be safe and healthy at all times. However, bringing the addiction to his or her attention, or trying to confront your loved one about it usually only ends up with the situation being ignored. That's when it's important to know what else you can do to encourage drug or alcohol rehab.

It might be helpful for you to schedule an intervention. During an intervention, you and other friends and family members will have an opportunity to present your case for treatment to your loved one. This is such an effective method, and it usually ends up with the individual agreeing to get help.

The Legal Consequences of Addiction for a Cop

While it's true that you can get into legal trouble for using drugs or alcohol as a police officer, you're much more likely to experience the legal ramifications of it if you fail to come forward about your addiction. Today, so many law enforcement agencies have been educated about the disease of addiction, and they are much more willing to find a way for you to get help than to simply strip you of your position. You might be surprised to find that there is actually a great deal of compassion for you from your superiors when you are truthful and honest about your struggles, and they will support you and encourage you to get the kind of help you need to recover.

Types of Alcohol and Drug Treatment for Law Enforcement Personnel

It's important to know the various options that are available to you if you are interested in getting help for a drug or alcohol addiction. You may be surprised to find that there are more options that you originally thought. They include:

  • Outpatient treatment, which would allow you to come to appointments weekly or more often at first, although this type of treatment is usually for those whose addictions are mild, or who have been through inpatient treatment.
  • Intensive outpatient treatment, which would require you to attend treatment several times during the week.
  • Inpatient treatment, which would require you to stay at a facility for a period of time (usually 30 days) while you get addiction help.
  • Outpatient support groups, such as narcotics anonymous or alcoholics anonymous. These types of 12 Step meetings work very well for those in outpatient treatment.
  • Drug detox or alcohol detox, which may be the very first step in your addiction recover process to help you through the withdrawal period.

Help is Available for Addicted Police Officers at Northpoint Recovery

Because you work in the law enforcement field, you've undoubtedly seen the consequences of addiction on a regular basis in your job. You know how it has torn families apart, how it has caused so many health problems, professional issues, and even anxiety or depression problems for those who are addicted to alcohol or drugs. Because you work in this field, it's common to think that there is no way that you might ever succumb to the horrors of addiction. You might believe that you're above that, and for a short period of time, you might be able to maintain a façade of strength that convinces you and those around you. However, it's impossible for you to maintain that stance for very long. It's important for you to know whether or not you are an addicted law enforcement official, and if you are, you need to know that help is available for you so that you can stop using and recover.

It is so difficult for police officers to admit that they have problems with drugs or alcohol. You're taught to remain strong in all situations, and admitting you have a problem implies weakness in your mind. However, making the admission that your addiction is something you just can't handle on your own is the strongest decision you'll ever make.

Here at Northpoint Recovery, we've been able to work with many police officers in all different positions, and we've helped them to successfully recover from their addictions. It might seem impossible for you, but others who have gone before you have proven that it is possible.

Would you like to learn more about addiction treatment for law enforcement personnel? If so, please contact us today to get the information and help you need.