“As a rule, police officers are in the middle of all the chaos”
The police maintains the public peace and order, dealing with people who exhibit indecent or violent behaviours, with traffic accidents, firearm violence, all the while constantly exposed to huge threats to their lives. Working in shifts can be exhausting (very often police officers work under rotating working schedule and do overtime), which prevents them from spending quality time with their families or simply from having time to themselves. Furthermore, the negative publicity, budget cuts or layoffs can cause huge stress among police officers. The anxiety/stress suffered mentally as well as physically sometimes leads to use of psychoactive substances (PAS), legal (alcohol, medications) and illegal (amphetamines, cocaine, opiates…) among some police officers, which further leads to addiction. Why do police officers use PAS? Police officers in the United States of America suffer much more stress nowadays than 30 years ago.
Currently public control is increased and informal gatherings among colleagues occur rarely. A large percentage of police officers worry about issues related to political correctness, cultural diversity, as well as constant amendments to the laws. Consequently, it can be concluded that numerous factors in the execution of the working tasks by police officers contribute to increased stress, which can serve as a stepping-stone and directly lead to abuse of psychoactive substances.
Dangers of the job Police members very often engage in searches, investigations, issue parking tickets and fines for traffic violations as part of their daily working tasks, with the more dangerous aspect of their work being arrests, discovering criminal groups, hostage situations and other critical situations involving high stress levels and life threats. Working schedule Police officers work in rotating shifts. Very often police officers work 10-12 hour- shifts for several consequent days. Such working schedule allows for little free time and relaxation during the week. Consequent 12-hour shifts can cause exhaustion and reduce critical thinking skills.
Exhaustion is responsible for numerous health issues, including anxiety and depression. Rotating shifts prevent police officers from functioning normally and deprive them of sleep, while sleep deprivation in particular can affect performance just the same as alcohol overconsumption. Similar to the effects of alcohol, exhaustion can disrupt speech, body coordination, sight and reflexes, potentially resulting with a delayed response.
Police officers who use PAS often perform activities demanding additional engagement or work in order to satisfy their PAS needs, thus depriving their body from rest and sound sleep which have direct effects on their health as a whole. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Distressing events such as crime scene investigations of violent acts can impact the psyche of police officers. These type of events can cause post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition developed after experiencing a traumatic event. Patients suffering from PTSD often use PAS that alter their mental state as a manner to self-medicate. Alcohol in particular, legal and known to relax the body and loosen emotions, can provide a temporary release. As many as one third report a problem with heavy drinking after a traumatic even or an accident according to the United States Department for Veteran Affairs. Public criticism The police always remain in the public eye, particularly concerning death cases in civilian shootings, much more common nowadays than in the past. Such situations attract huge media attention, and consequently public disorder, which affect police officers.
Dealing with public criticism can be difficult. Many police officers manage to develop healthy habits in their fight against stress, such as jogging, exercising, hiking etc. However, some police officers find release from the stress in alcohol consumption or another PAS. Police and PAS abuse The cruelty and gravity of the working tasks can cause psychoactive substance abuse among some police officers. The most frequently used substances are marihuana, benzodiazepines and amphetamines, however, the most popular PAS abused by this group are alcohol and opioids.
Alcohol abuse Alcohol consumption is a common and known occurrence among law enforcement officers.
Alcohol is mostly used as a tool to help them relax or socialize or as a remedy to relieve pain experienced by a traumatic event, which can doubtlessly lead to alcohol abuse. Alcohol consumption rates are twice higher among police officers than the general population, according to the Journal of Law Enforcement.
Alcohol use can prevent normal body functions, disrupt sleep and thus lead to an unproductive working day. In addition, other problems may occur as a result of alcohol abuse, mostly from a health, social and financial aspect. Abuse of legal PAS (prescription drugs) For years, the most abused PAS among police officers was alcohol, however today alcohol has been replaced by pain medications.
Police officers suffering a workplace injury are often prescribed pain medications, which, when used uncontrollably, can lead to addiction. Very often these medications are opiates.
Police officers who spent most of their time working out on the field are considered vulnerable in cases when suspects are larger and stronger than them. When suspects resist arrest, a weaker officer could experience difficulties in detaining the suspect. Consequently, some officers turn to steroid abuse in order to create advantage in such situations. Although steroids help police officers to build better muscle mass and exhibit a more threatening appearance, still they can also have serious consequences on police officers’ health. Steroid abuse is mostly connected with increased blood pressure, cardiovascular problems and aggressive behaviour. Symptoms and signs of PAS abuse PAS abuse alters behaviour and affects work performance. Police officers with addiction might exhibit signs of PAS abuse, including: aggressive behaviour, outbursts of irritability, unusual appearance, lack of focus, frequent traffic accidents, frequent absences from work due to illness (sick leave). Police officers who have abused PAS at a certain period sometimes exhibit withdrawal signs related to PAS and experience abstinence crisis, which can lead to other consequences. Withdrawal symptoms differ depending on the PAS being used: pain, anxiety, depression, agitation, sweating, dilated pupils, nausea, diarrhoea, etc.
Police officers shouldn’t attempt to deal with these symptoms alone because this increases the risk to their health, to the degree of losing consciousness, going into coma or even death. If a police officer decides to quit or stop using a certain substance, it is important to seek urgent medical care. Treatment and support services Police officers who abuse PAS, above all in the US, have more options at their disposal when struggling with addiction, however medical treatment is considered to be the most efficient option. Psychiatric support Psychiatrists can assist police officers in overcoming their addiction and use of a certain substance. The objective in attending sessions is to change the manner in which a person perceives PAS and offer healthy life techniques.
Police chapels are a spiritual resource, where spiritual/religious individuals offer counsel through prayers, guiding police officers towards a positive change in their behaviour. Furthermore, chapels organize different spiritual workshops for stress management, ethics and family life. Medical treatment It is highly probable that police officers avoid asking for help in their addiction struggles out of fear for having a disciplinary action initiated against them. As a result, they continue using PAS and deteriorate their condition. Medical treatment is the most efficient option when struggling with addiction.
Treatment centres offer a wide range of services in order to meet individual needs, while rehabilitation centres offer several levels of care, such as: intensive hospital treatment, outpatient care, as well as support groups. In conclusion, literally no one is immune to stress and its related effects when unable to correctly manage it. More discussion on stress-related topics and the use of PAS is necessary. Only through correct information and education of the general public will we be able to address a certain problem and find the proper solution for it. This is why you need to take care of your health, and should you face a problem related to PAS use or abuse, seek help from a professional.
Author: Bogdan Kolev Bogdan Kolev holds a bachelor in Social Work, and has been professionally engaged at HOPS for seven years, where he has been working with drug users, adult and minor users. In addition, Kolev participated in the Summer School on Addiction, organized by HOPS, as an educator on the topic “Harm Reduction of Drug Use”. He was also a part of the team participating at the D Festival, where he held lectures on the topic “Club Drugs”.
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