How do you deal with the stress of your job? Do you take a run after getting off shift or head to the gym? Maybe you gather with some friends, grab a pizza, and watch some movies. Or maybe you like to grab a beer and go fishing. Whatever your wind-down method may be, one method runs the risk of derailing your life. Turning to alcohol after a rough shift is nothing unusual. But what happens when you are turning to it after every shift? Or maybe you aren’t drinking every day but are on a cycle of binge drinking when you have enough time off. Either one of these situations is toxic and needs to be faced.
Being a police officer is hands down one of the most intense and demanding careers available. Especially in light of current events, the stress factor is through the roof on police officers. Whatever your reason for becoming a cop, you may feel inadequate to cope with all the pressure. Split second decisions, constant awareness, and facing a cycle of repeat offenders who seem to go in to the justice system and come right back out a revolving door wear and tear on the reasons you initially chose this profession. At some point, dealing with the everyday realities became easier with an alcoholic drink in your hand.
As you read this article, you might feel your hackles raising, silently protesting that you aren’t a drunk. No, drunks are the people you pick up on the sidewalk or outside a club. An alcoholic is someone who can function on a daily basis, despite their requirement for alcohol. Tolerances and personalities differ among people, but there WILL BE things that you or others notice.
Signs and Symptoms¹:
- Desire to drink even when you know you shouldn’t
- Withdrawing from others/activities
- Using poor judgement
- Stop caring for work/family and commitments
- Needing to drink more to feel effects
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you try to stop; such as nausea, vomiting, and shakes
Short and long-term physical effects take place with an alcoholic. Injuries received from falls or other accidents can occur. Blackouts can leave one with no clue on their recent actions. Long-term effects can include hypertension, liver damage, stroke, and cancer². Other signs can become present like frequent arguments, missing work, depression or suicidal thoughts.
Several factors have been blamed for the high rate of alcoholism in law enforcement. Some have stated that it is a part of the culture³. But alcoholism and binge drinking go beyond getting together with your fellow officers and rehashing the day’s events. While many people can function as an alcoholic for a time, negative effects will start to occur. These effects will eat away at everything you have and are trying to build in your life. Spouses, children, a promising career are all at stake.
So how do you get help? Can you go to just any meeting and expect to get understanding? You have one of the most demanding jobs in society. How will others understand the frustrations and struggles that you encounter on a daily basis? It is very important to be open and honest when breaking free from alcoholism. Any half-hearted attempt will not succeed. Many departments offer anonymous counseling, which is a good place to start. But what about the one-on-one support from someone who has walked in your shoes? The connection between being open about why you drink and your success at overcoming alcohol is very strong. Being surrounded by teachers, lawyers, mechanics, and stay-at-home parents may not be the most ideal place for you to express all your struggles. Having someone who understands the demands of the job and the demands it places on family life is paramount to being able to be completely honest.
Station House Retreat is a center designed especially for first responders. Peer groups are able to relate in a way that would be impossible in another setting. Everyone in the group, even though they come from different places, understand what your daily life involves. The specifics are different but the overall foundations are the same. You can find support from a group that know what it feels like to put on the equipment and get in your squad car every shift. They understand the adrenaline rush of a serious call. That is something you won’t find in a group of civilians. Your peers understand how hard it is to not be able to discuss your job with your spouse because they just don’t understand. Topics are geared with your specific experience in mind. No broad generalities that you don’t relate to. Station House Retreat staff are experienced working with first responders and know the demands placed on you as a police officer. Various therapy options provide you with support on an individual basis. If you are struggling with alcohol and tired of dealing with it all alone, look to Station House Retreat, one of the only places in the US that exclusively serves first responders.
¹Mayo Clinic Staff. Alcohol Use Disorder, Symptoms. (2015) Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/basics/symptoms/con-20020866
²National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol’s Effects on The Body. Retrieved from http://niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body
³Willman, E. Alcohol Use Among Law Enforcement [Abstract]. The Journal of Law Enforcement, 2(3), 1-4.