Drug use happens in millions of homes across America. There is a challenge for people who struggle with substance use in trying to quit and recover their life. Police officers struggle with substance use disorder (SUD) because of many factors. Addiction can take someone down at any moment. Studies show a correlation between high-stress work and long-term health consequences. Addiction can result from many things, but often police officers are on the frontlines witnessing trauma, abuse, neglect, violence, and death among all the good things they are able to accomplish. Although they serve and protect, they also need protection from emotional and physical harm, including support for addiction.
Police officers are not immune to neglect, violence, or trauma in early childhood. Sometimes, they become an officer purely out of the experiences they had as a child. Their mindset is turned towards serving justice for those who struggle and to protect those who are vulnerable. The origins of addiction are not known for sure because they vary widely from person to person. Every individual has to navigate their own healing journey of how they came to be addicted and what they need to do to heal. It helps to know the risk factors and family of origin (genetics and environment) but they are not the sole reason a person struggles with addiction.
Life with police means a life of vigilance and looking over their shoulders. Shootings with police are more common than ever. Officers are suited up every day but they risk their lives when they go out into the streets to keep others safe. Following this are loads of paperwork, training, and the reminder they are always on duty. This hyper-vigilance can result in lots of challenging situations that result in mental and physical strain for the officers and their families. Violence on the job and witnessing horrific acts against others is only one risk factor. Officers also work long hours, do shifts, sometimes work for days to even a week at a time with little sleep or family contact when working cases. They are not open to sharing their struggles due to a culture that has kept them from connecting their line of work with mental health struggles. They may end up using substances as a means to cope with the challenges rather than speak to someone about it and risk their job or deal with stigma.
Stress and Pressure
Talking with loved ones about what they see is not always possible. They may be bound by law to not speak about who they help or what they witnessed. They develop a tough exterior to deal with episodes of aggression and hostility. A cop may seem to crave isolation but the end of the day they have to deal with being alone in their thoughts and feelings. Reaching out with the stress and pressure to succeed with a tough upper lip can be detrimental to health over time. Officers turn to drugs to deal with the myriad challenges they face. The substances they use might include:
- Prescription painkillers
Drugs rarely work for long-term solutions. The brain learns to compensate and deregulate in response to the presence of drugs. This means officers who take them might need more over time. They may not find relief. In time, the urge to use these might become compulsive. A better way to cope means finding a better way to respond to the challenges they face on the job.
Addiction can seriously derail a person’s health and job prospects. Officers may put other’s lives on the line while they are struggling. The brain and body become dependent, which makes it harder for them to quit. To cope with this, it is important to take time away from work. Still working a job that brings more stress is difficult when dealing with addictive behaviors, habits, and a mind that is addicted to chemicals. Healthy coping strategies means identifying triggers that may lead to relapse. In addition, it is helpful to enroll in a treatment program that helps them cope with substance use, addictive behaviors, mental health issues, and the life of first responders. People who treat first responders often have a better handle on the issues they face and can find hope for their healing.
Why Treatment Works
Treatment is effective because it provides a safe, confidential space to feel vulnerable. It also allows addictions to be brought into the light and dealt with positively with others who understand. Silence can be isolating for someone with an addiction. Confidentiality is key in rehab but it also means being vulnerable to share in that safe space and feel protected when sharing thoughts, feelings, and concerns. Other types of support offered may include:
- 12-step groups
- Aftercare planning
- Employment retention support
- Family therapy and healing opportunities
- Nutritional counseling and alternative healing options
While police officers work on their healing, they can be part of their colleague’s healing as well. This means sharing their story if they feel comfortable and working to change the culture of silence around addiction and mental health in police officers. The choice is always up to the individual how they wish to approach their recovery but there is hope for healing for those who reach out for support.
Police officers who struggle with substance abuse are not always able to tell someone. They fear stigma or shame from peers and retaliation from superiors. The police officers who report substance abuse may not seek treatment or be able to take time from work to heal. While police officers work on their healing, they can be part of their colleague’s healing as well. This means sharing their story if they feel comfortable and working to change the culture of silence around addiction and mental health in police officers. The choice is always up to the individual how they wish to approach their recovery but there is hope for healing for those who reach out for support.
Forge is a safe space to come and heal from addiction. We help police officers who struggle with addiction reimagine what is possible, and forge a new path forward.
Call us today: 1-888-224-7312