Alcoholism's Prevelence Amoung Law Enforcement
Submitted By gregr69
Abstract For years the alcoholic cop was a commonplace fixture around police stations nationwide. Both large and small departments had to contend with the issues surrounding the disease of alcoholism and its progression among members of their forces. While it is common knowledge that the law enforcement profession is not the only occupational group to experience alcoholism among the ranks and the alcoholic officer is not unlike millions of others in the workforce that contend with the disease, how prevalent does the abuse of alcohol among police officers remain?
It was 1975 when former law enforcement turned novelist, Joseph Wambaugh, shared The Choirboys with us. Wambaugh’s fictional tale of the shenanigans involving police officers spent a great deal of time discussing the use and abuse of alcohol by the police. Are cops are still turning up the bottle and at an alarming rate? From the Wambaugh’s tales of the after-shift meetings in MacArthur Park to today’s “stress-relief” briefings at various wing houses and sports bars across the country police officers are boozing it up and alcohol abuse among the profession has reached an all-time high. Recent studies indicate that one-quarter of all police officers in the U.S. are afflicted with the disease of alcoholism. Not surprisingly, studies have established a significant correlation between occupational stress and increased alcohol use by police officers today. Occupational stress, if untreated, can lead to negative changes in a law enforcer’s life, especially how they view themselves and the communities that they serve. This puts the officer at risk for becoming cynical, burned out, apathetic, abusing alcohol or drugs, and committing suicide. While we understand that job related stress does not result in the officer’s immediate pit stop at the local ABC store while on-duty, it is reasoned that the police officer experiences job-related stress in a delayed manner, much like soldiers having been in combat experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unlike other professions where the occupational stressors remain fairly constant, law enforcement officers experience what is known as burst stress, which is defined as long periods of calm and boredom suddenly interrupted by periods of high activity. After work, and in order to regain the period of calm, some officer turns to drinking as a means to cope. As this alcohol induced wind down period seems to work for the officer it becomes commonplace after work and on the officer’s days off. Many prevention approaches view the causes of alcohol abuse among law enforcement officers to be based on the behavior of the officer, as well as being influenced by the officer’s social network. The police social network itself has risk factors for alcohol abuse including peer pressure and being subjected to isolation for non-participation in drinking events within a culture that approves the use of alcohol. Modern police culture remains insular and tight-knit and drinking among officers has become ingrained. Those not willing to take part are many times viewed as suspicious or anti-social by their peers. A recent survey of police officers across the country indicated that 25% reported drinking excessively to “be part of the team”. Despite the significantly high risk for alcoholism among law enforcement officers they remain one of the most difficult groups to reach with intervention and prevention services due largely to the aforementioned, insular and clannish police culture. Police agencies and their managers must be willing to not only implement strategies within their current ranks but must establish programs early in a police recruit’s career that can reduce the likelihood of that employee becoming dependent on alcohol as a coping mechanism. Prevention strategies of wellness, lifestyle education, and stress reduction must be built into the recruit’s academy training as well as the continuation of such programs throughout the officers’ career. In order to determine if the national statistics concerning the abuse of alcohol mirrored that of my geographical area a random survey was presented to sworn law enforcement officers. The population of the research was formed by obtaining 100 random surveys from sworn officers who have a variety of post assignments and various years of service. Through working with the local Chiefs’ of Police Association the surveys were randomly made available to officers from each agency within my geographical area. The number of officers represented from each agency was an equal percentage of the total officers employed by the given agency. A cover letter was included with each survey asking the officers for their assistance with the survey project. The letter explained the abstract of this paper and the need for honest, anonymous responses from them. Officers were asked to discretely pick up a survey from a designated location within their respective agency, complete the survey in its entirety, and place the survey into a provided, sealable envelope. The survey was then placed in the collection container provided and returned for computation of the results. Completed surveys were reviewed for completeness and legitimacy. Results from the local research survey remained consistent with the national trend concerning alcohol abuse among the law enforcement profession where it is double that of the general population. 1 in 10 non-law enforcement workers abuse alcohol in the United States today. Naturally, survey participants cited conditions of their work as the common denominator for their alcohol consumption. Shift work, work-related stressors, the need to suppress emotions, and financial standing were all indicated as factors that promoted the officers’ need to unwind with alcoholic beverages after work. Even after indicating their understanding that alcohol is a strong chemical depressant, and if consumed in large amounts on a regular basis alcohol can have a devastating effect on their bodies, officers that were surveyed still contended that the use of alcohol was a solution to the pressures of their job. To combat this problem, law enforcement managers must realize that when an officer’s drinking habits develop into a problem, he usually cannot recognize the relation between drinking and the problems created by it. An alcoholic officer must be help in realizing that he has a problem and must be helped to bring the problem under control or risk unemployment, loss of benefits, bringing discredit upon his department, and violation of the public’s trust. Many officers do not think that they need help in dealing with their drinking problem, even though their drinking is disrupting their life at home and at work. Others will acknowledge that their compulsive drinking is seriously affecting their lives but delay, in an exasperating manner, action to correct the problem. When supervisors confront an officer with accusations of alcoholism, they must be prepared to positively counteract a view which is different from theirs. If police administrators hope to effectively reduce alcohol abuse among their personnel they must intervene early into the network that reinforces the behavior – the police culture. Law enforcement agencies should get involved early, at the academy level, with educational programs that; focus on positive lifestyle rather than on the effects of alcohol itself, help provide officers with tips to improve their fitness and well-being, and provide assistance in the recognition and management of stress. In conclusion, the problems and stressors facing police officers on a day-to-day basis are not being reduced. Alcoholism rates among the police profession continue to rise and with this rise are the associated problems with work performance, domestic violence, and suicide. Law enforcement management must get in front of the problem with early and continued education, early detection, and intervention and prevention programs.
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