When we think of police officers, we often think of those brave men and women who combat the crime on our streets and word tirelessly to protect us. They are the frontline against danger, placing themselves at risk. Children – and some adults – might say they are real-life superheroes, with shining badges of courage. It might be easy to forget that our law enforcement professionals are really just people. Each day, they wake up, kiss their loved ones goodbye, pay their bills, and deal with the same stresses as people in less dangerous jobs.
- Police officers
- Prison guards
- Drug enforcement officers
- Administrative officers for the police department, sheriff’s department, courts or prisons
According to an article in the Boston Globe, police officers in Massachusetts and Los Angeles have been fired from their positions because of drug abuse. Other officers, who were given the opportunity to correct their behavior, stop abusing drugs and keep their jobs, chose to leave the department voluntary so they would not have to submit to further drug testing. Certainly, it can be surprising to realize that law enforcement officers would engage in drug abuse, but when you understand that drug addiction is a disease, and that all people are at risk, the fact that these individuals are just as susceptible shouldn’t be surprising.
On-the-Job Stress Is a Risk Factor for Drug Abuse and Addiction
Police officers and other law enforcement officers suffer stress from a variety of sources. For instance, there are certain stresses of the job that are inherent to police work, such as confronting alleged criminals on a routine traffic stop that can easily turn into a roadside shootout, a high-speed chase, or responding to calls of violent crimes in progress.
Another type of stress comes from the internal workings of the department for which the officer works. Policies and practices may change, creating an atmosphere where officers can feel their hands are tied when it comes to doing their job. A third type of stress may come from our society and justice system when criminals the officer risked their life to apprehend are released back into society due to what the officer may perceive as a weak or lenient judge or prosecutor. Finally, there are the stresses that come at each officer on a private basis, whether it is at home or work, or involving friendships or relationships with coworkers.
Stress, at its core, is a risk factor for drug abuse and relapse into drug and alcohol addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, anyone can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of experiencing significant trauma. The definition of serious trauma will vary from person to person, based upon their personal strengths and levels of fortitude; however, police officers may face great amounts of trauma every time they step out of their homes. Even when they are off duty, they are first responders. Car accidents, robberies, and abused men, women and children are just a few of the troubling things these officers deal with. If the stress builds up, or if PTSD develops over time, it is possible that officers can use contacts from their on-the-job experience to obtain drugs they may ultimately abuse.
What Is the Attraction to Drugs?
People will use drugs for a variety of reasons. Some simply feel as though they need to go along with the crowd. The mentality of “everyone does it” can pervade common sense and give an individual a false sense of security that nothing bad will happen. Other individuals abuse drugs because they want to feel good. They want to experience the “high” that is often touted as a good thing by friends, family members or the media. Finally, there are those who abuse drugs to feel better. These individuals, who often suffer from diagnosable mental health disorders, come to realize that the drugs they are taking make them feel happy when they are sad, relaxed when they feel anxious or numb when they are in physical pain. This type of self-medication is just as dangerous as purely recreational use when it comes to addiction, however.
A law enforcement officer may suffer an on-the-job injury, for example. In the beginning, they follow departmental orders and take a medical leave. They go to the doctor and take their medication in accordance with the directions. They may feel as though they need to return to work, so they get back on the job as quickly as humanly possible. The pain from the injury may get worse if they stop taking proper care, so to cover their self-perceived weakness, they begin taking their prescription narcotics before their shift. Not only can this dangerously affect their reaction time, but they are also building tolerance to the medication which can ultimately mean they will need higher doses of the drug in order for it to be effective. Why doesn’t this individual return to the doctor to find out why they aren’t healing? Perhaps they fear they will be told to take it easy, with further medical leave time. Perhaps they fear they will receive worse news, resulting in the inability to perform their job at all.
Another individual may begin taking a spouse’s anti-anxiety medication because they fear that revealing their anxiety or fears to their superior officers may result in career-damaging health reports. In the end, they risk more than their careers. They may even risk their life, or the life of someone who trusts them to watch out for them.
Drug Rehab for Law Enforcement Professionals
Many individuals who suffer from drug addiction experience a certain amount of shame as they realize how drugs have taken over their lives and caused them to behave in ways they wouldn’t have under normal circumstances. For law enforcement professionals, this might be especially troubling as they have been charged with upholding the very laws they have broken. Consequently, police officers and other members of law enforcement may wish to seek residential, inpatient treatment at a facility that can offer complete discretion and privacy.
Inpatient, residential treatment affords some additional benefits over an outpatient or public rehab when it comes to stress.
- Residents can dedicate 100 percent of their time, energy and thoughts to recovery without having to worry about the mundane aspects of life, such as getting to work on time.
- Residents are surrounded by others in the same situation who are recovering from drug abuse and addiction.
- Residents can take part in educational opportunities to learn about their disease, helping them to understand why they find themselves in need of treatment.
- Residents can learn healthy ways to reduce the stress in their lives through drug-free means, such as yoga and meditation.
- Residents who suffer from co-occurring mental disorders, such as anxiety or depression, can receive proper diagnosis and treatment.
In addition to the privacy, seclusion and dedication that are part of drug rehab for law enforcement professionals, inpatient treatment provides the evidence-based therapies that can help create a new, healthy lifestyle. Individual, group and family therapy are all distinct therapies that can be worked into an overall, individualized treatment plan that is designed to meet the needs of one person – not a demographic.
If you are, or someone you love is, a law enforcement officer who is suffering from the effects of drug abuse and addiction, it is never too early to get the help you need. Contact us here at Axis to learn how you can begin a recovery plan today.