Breaking News
Police Shortage Hits Critical Mass         Troopers Accused in OT Scam         DROP Lawsuit: Judge Rules Against Cops         The Real Reason They’re After Your Pension? Money!         DROP Program Getting Negative Press         Millennials, White-collar Workers Bringing New Life to Unions         New Study Reveals Police Rarely Use Force         Fake Cop Badges are Everywhere         Best Path for a Trim, Healthy Body         Teachers Get 5% After Strike; Victory for Cops, Too!         When is Police “Use of Force” Justified?         Police Unions & the Video Craze         Scary Day for Police Unions         Night Tours Can Hurt Your Health         Stress Weakens Brain Power; Exercise Can Bring It Back         Police Association President Arrests Suspect—On His Street!         An Assault on Common Sense         NYPD Sergeant Acquitted On All Charges         Fingerprint Scanner to Track On-the-job Time         New Jersey Cops Fighting for Their Pensions         Police and Attorney Say “No Way” to Restrictive Use of Force Policy         Jury Is Out On This Police Review Board         A Police Union With Power!         Stressed-Out Officers: Gone After Eight Years         More Union Members in 2017         Police, Fire Lose Court Fight Over Pensions         Baltimore Discovers It Wants and Needs Its Police         VIDEO: Austin Cops Leaving in Droves         Off-Duty Jobs Scam Uncovered         Deputies Demand $500,000 In Back Pay         Stressed Out Officers, Gone After 8 Years         City Scrambles to Save Pensions         Police Boss Gets Jail Time, Rank and File Up In Arms         CONTRACT REJECTED! Younger Officers Upset With High Healthcare Costs         Police Pensions Protected (For Now)         Let’s Support Firefighters; Cops Will Be Next         Man With a Plan         FBI Will Not Investigate Detective’s Homicide         What About “Warning Shots?” The Debate Continues         Dallas 9-1-1 Back On Track         Hope for Pay Raises in St. Louis         VIDEO: NYC Hero Cop Speaks         New Policies on Deadly Force         ALADS Continues Legal Fight Over “Brady” List         Cops Forgo Raise to Keep 4-3 Schedule         One Cop’s Take On Colin Kaepernick         VIDEO: “We Brought Our Brother Home”         LISTEN: No Sleep? You’d Better Fix That!         VIDEO: What Really Happened         ACLU: Detective’s Right to Free Speech Was Violated         Time To Stop the Finger Pointing         If Things Go Bad, You Need a Plan         Dear Anthem Protesters: Police are Not the Enemy         Real Police Facing Private Takeover         Hard Work, Heartache, and a Lot of Love         VIDEO: Harvey’s Horrific Aftermath         VIDEO: Keeping World Leaders Safe         Bill Bratton On the Future of American Policing         Who Will Pay for New Contract?         VIDEO: Detectives Fight Plan to Cut Pensions         Taking Care of Others, Then Our Own         Public Support For Unions is Growing         Minneapolis Considering Residency Incentives         VIDEO: Cop Battling Cancer is Harvey Hero         VIDEO: Dancing With the Cops?         Cops Speak Out Against Use of “Thin Blue Line” by Hate Groups         What Is the Arnold Foundation Hiding?         Decision May Violate Officers’ Rights         Court Deems Evergreen Clause Constitutional         No Raises for Cops; $140M for Stadium         Philly Cops Win $8M O.T. Settlement         We Condemn Nazis and White Supremacists         Mounties Face Crisis, No Solution in Sight         Push to Oust Louisville PD Chief Intensifying         CSLEA is Newest Member of PubSecAlliance         Ford is Fixing the Problem         “It’s Been An Honor to Work With Chief Marshman”         Automatic Dues Collection Under Attack         Cops Use Video to Go for Pay Raise         Understaffed Leads to Rise In Crime         R.I.P. Deputy Haak         Ruling On Body Cams: Use Must Be Negotiated         Rochester Police Locust Club (NY) Joins PubSecAlliance         Officer Acquitted Of Negligent Homicide         Texas Cops Oppose Anti-Union Bill         Insults Divide, Decency Unites         FOP Prez Threatened, Police Investigate         VIDEO: Sergeant’s Indictment Prompts Outpouring of Support         VIDEO: Sounding the Alarm On a Manpower Crisis         VIDEO: Dramatic Body Cam Footage!         VIDEO: Police Union Advises Action Amid “Breaking Point”         VT First State to OK Compensation for PTSD         Officer Suicides: Agencies Must Do More         Outsiders Clamor for Police Contract Changes         Governor Furloughs Workers, Hits the Beach         Recruit the Best at U.S. Army Reserves         VIDEO: Sergeant Charged With Murder 2         R.I.P. Officer Korchak         More Officers Taking Own Lives         Pride in Honoring Our Own         A Tale of Two Chiefs         New Accountability System Gives Civilians More Power         Police Unions Call for “Rational Voice”         Texas Moves to Save Pensions         City Refuses to Pay Officer’s Legal Bills         Rank and File Question Dubious Hiring         The Mounties Have Never Had to Contend With a Union         Police Week: Anguish, Anger, Empathy         Rookies Sue for OT Pay During Academy Training         FLSA Pay Ruling: Use Cash, Not Benefits         Record Crowd Attends Annual Candlelight Vigil         Everyone Needs Sleep, Especially Cops         Questions Raised About New John Jay President         Hennepin County Sheriff Joins NYPD Shield Program         Big Surprise: Paper Misrepresents Contract Talks         County Budget Leaves Us Underfunded         VIDEO: Omaha Unions Say No to Gov         City Says “No Police Floats” In Parade         One-Minute Man         Is This the Solution to Cop Shootings?         Ingredients for Better LE Outcomes         Why the Police Need Unions         Mounties Demand a Union & Contract         Indebted to Some Very Brave People         We’ve Been Abandoned by Politicos, Command Staff         VIDEO: The Most Hated Man In Pensionland         Underfunded Pensions: a Disaster Waiting to Happen         Another Ambush Attack!         Today, It’s You; Tomorrow, It’s a Security Guard         VIDEO: NJ Police May Get Control of Unfunded Pensions         Thousands of Officers to Get BIG Bonuses         Improving Economy Hurts LE Recruitment         Another Fundraising Scam         Threats to Police Retirement Programs Escalate         Conflict Rises, Billboards Go Up         NJ Unilaterally Changing Police Contract         Pensions Slowly Being Reduced and Replaced         Baltimore Chief: “No More Plainclothes”         When Will All This Stop?         Top Police Union Leader Joins Protest         VIDEO: “Line of Duty” is HERE!         Chicago Cops Get Thanks They Deserve         Mayors Missing as Pension Fund Goes Down         Pension Bill Draws Protest         Deputies Association Hires High-Powered PR Exec         Finally, a Contract for NYPD Officers         Nebraska Corrections Officers Seek Out F.O.P.         Outrage Grows Over Pension Plans in Peril         Sanctuary Cities: Police vs. Mayor         Police Unions Seek to Overhaul Obama’s Reforms         Super Bowl Security         Look Hard at Your Pension Fund         Pension Mediation Talks Cease; Lawsuit Looms         How Much Would You Pay for Policing?         Hazardous Workplace         Officers Leaving in Droves         Technology, Police, and Privacy         Fake Guns Destroy Lives         War Against Unions Gaining Ground         Washington D.C. Police Union in Turmoil         Teamsters Face 20% Cut in Pension Benefits         Body Cam Screw-ups Lead to Mistrial         VIDEO: Body Cam Catches Shootout         Restraining Order for Black Lives Matter Leader         New Chief Has Fight On His Hands         Pension Panic Spreads         Carrots and Sticks         Another Agency May Fold         Community and Police Join in Prayer         VIDEO: We Are There For You!         Feds Seek Repeat of Disastrous Police Hiring Practices         VIDEO: Officer’s Gift of Kindness Keeps on Giving         Is Trump Going After Collective Bargaining Rights?         Police Union Not “App”y         Police Union Fights Back Against Budget Cuts         Police Union Reinstates Body Cam Program         Citizen Wants Officer Fired for FB Post         VIDEO: Use of Force Policy Fiasco         Attacks on Law Enforcement         VIDEO: Where Is the Outrage?         Millions May Lose Overtime Pay         Mayor Violates Officer’s Right to Due Process         VIDEO: Police Union Heals With Song         State Moves to Nix Benefits From Collective Bargaining         City, Officer Cleared in Wrongful Death Case         Trump Puts OT, Benefits On Chopping Block         VIDEO: A World Without Law Enforcement         VIDEO: Shake It Off         HUGE Refund for AZ Public-Safety Pensioners         Eloquent Goodbye         Cheerleader In Chief         The Trouble With Trauma         Shocking News About Local Gov Pension Funds         See You In Court!         One of the Good Guys         Chief Resigns After No-Confidence Vote         Zika Virus Hits Cops         Iowa Officers Ambushed         Policing the Police         For Real Community Policing, Let Officers Do Their Jobs        

Alcohol & Cops: The Risks are Real



Police officer, clinician, and outreach professional John Becker

By John Becker

Mention the words “police officer” and many images come to mind. One of the most common is someone strong standing in between innocence and danger. Law enforcement officers face so many risks today. Drug use, robberies, and violent crimes are on the rise. Repeat offenders seem to perpetually revolve through the justice system. In years past, police officers held an esteemed position in society. In today’s heated climate, it seems more and more people are mistakenly singling police out as a problem, instead of part of the solution. So how does an officer handle the stress?

Watch any movie portraying the life of a police officer and you are guaranteed to witness a strong yet broken hero who deals with the pressures of their work with a double, on the rocks at their favorite bar. Maybe it’s a film highlighting the brotherhood law enforcement officers share. Inevitably a scene or two involves everyone from the shift at a neighborhood bar, passing pitchers around in celebration or commiseration.

Law enforcement does have a culture of brotherhood and family. But it can also foster a culture of avoidance and dependency. Many officers are taught and expected to be able to “fix” every problem. They are to shoulder the ugly side of society, yet make it to their kids t-ball game in time with a smile on their face and that can be a difficult transition.

Learning how to deal with the stress of the job and maintaining a functioning personal life is a skill many officers don’t learn. The end result is alcoholism, drug abuse, and/or divorce.

Knowing how to handle emotions is just as important to a law officer’s long-term success as is eating healthy and being aware of their surroundings. But “emotions” is a dirty word in many departments. Officers are drilled on codes, procedures, and handling weapons. But they are not taught how to process the daily drudge and the intense and traumatic experiences they encounter.

Coping mechanisms come in all shapes and sizes. Healthy and unhealthy ones become the everyday practice of LEOs. Alcohol is a depressant and will dull thoughts and feelings, while also causing some to feel even more invincible or simply block out all the emotions they cannot process.

According to an article in Police Chief magazine, the stressors that officers are exposed to “surpass the typical range of emotions” most people experience. The range of cases an officer handles ranges from the mundane to the horrific. In one shift, an officer can witness multiple victims of abuse, motor vehicle crashes involving patients with critical injuries, drug addicts, domestic violence incidents, adrenaline-filled chases. The flux of emotions, along with physiological effects, creates a perfect storm if that officer doesn’t have a healthy way to decompress. Add to the equation a culture that encourages camaraderie over a few drinks and you can end up with an officer on the road to alcoholism.

Police officers have a history of pride and along with each promotion or successful shift brings the desire to gather, share stories, and spend time with people who understand you. Celebrating a promotion or the new recruit classes graduation isn’t a bad thing. What makes it negative is the culture that encourages excessive drinking. The “sleep it off” before your next shift mentality that many departments hold.

A news article out of Dallas tells the story of several LEOs that lost their careers through various drunken acts. The article also highlights how often the drinking that occurs is binge drinking². Most LEOs fall into the Alpha personality and are naturally competitive and peer pressure creates a drive to be “top dog,” not just in the classroom or on the streets, but in the group for a night out. Being in law enforcement is tough; that is an understatement.

Enduring and succeeding in training, being promoted, having a listening ear who truly understands the trials of your day-to-day, are all legitimate reasons to gather with fellow officers. What should not become the norm is that every meeting is clouded by copious amounts of alcohol. Departments need to shed the old-era ideals of the neighborhood bar being the perfect after-shift meeting place. Leaders need to encourage old and young officers alike to seek out healthier alternatives to venting frustrations or celebrating that latest promotion than raising a glass.

One of the most potentially volatile areas of a law enforcement officer’s life is the very part that should be the most stable: family life. But divorce is prevalent among the law enforcement community.

Long and odd hours, rotating schedules, dangerous environments, and unmet expectations all can combine to derail a marriage. Most marriages go through periods of confusion, fights, and disappointments. With a marriage involving a police officer, many spouses complain of their spouse being “married to the job”. Some spouses do okay with this but many do not. Years of missed birthdays, anniversaries, and other family events lead to frustration.

A lack of understanding, even from a loving spouse, can lead to discord in a marriage. And unless you walk in the officer’s shoes, it is almost impossible to relate to or understand the level of stress they operate under. Another issue is that alcoholism is often a “family affair”; multiple family members may have a history of alcohol abuse and the officer may even have grown up with it as the daily norm.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends drinking in moderation and advises those with certain medical conditions and history of family alcoholism should be much more cautious. Now, this doesn’t mean that you are destined to become an alcoholic if your parent was. This just means you may be at a higher risk for developing a drinking problem.

Statistics vary, but one report states as many as 25 percent of law enforcement officers in the US have issues with alcohol. Statistics vary due to many reasons. One of the major reasons is the lack of reporting. Many officers don’t come forward due to fear of repercussions. Fear of losing their jobs, respect, and place in society keep them silent. Coworkers don’t come forward because they will be viewed as ratting out on their partners. So what can be done? Emotional well-being isn’t a term used often in the world of law enforcement. But it needs to start being used as frequently as radio codes, continuing education, and weapons training.

Healthy food choices and participating in an active lifestyle are both extremely important factors that many departments are starting to highlight. But the emotional and mental factors are being ignored. LEOs need to be taught the dangers of not having positive coping methods in place.

Many departments have implemented services where employees can anonymously seek help with addictions and depression. But the stigma needs to be erased that it is a sign of power and strength to be able to “hold” your emotions in. Yes, emotions need to be kept in check while on scene and during an investigation. But afterwards, there must be a positive outlet for the LEO to process. Going home and taking frustrations out on your spouse or children is not the answer.

Going out with your crews and seeing who can down the most pitchers is not the answer either. In order to have a long and successful work life and personal life, LEOs must find a healthy way to deal with their everyday stress. Resources do exist. Workplace anonymous hotlines, faith-based meetings, and community clinics all have something to offer as an alternative to the negatives of using alcohol as a coping mechanism. Seeking help for how to deal with stress is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of intelligence and acknowledgement.

John Becker has experience as a police officer, clinician, and outreach professional. John also possesses a unique understanding of substance abuse among first responders, having overcome addiction in his own life. He is the Director of First Responder Services, for Sprout Health Group. John is an active member of the Montgomery County (PA) Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Team and is certified by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) for individual and group interventions. John has provided training to a number of agencies and organizations. He can be reached at 215-833-1572 or

Comments are closed.