Similar to military combat veterans, law enforcement officers experience a plethora of treacherous, violent stresses on a daily basis. The psychological aftermath of such experiences can be either acute or chronic and can emerge or reoccur across broad temporal scales. While on active duty and upon returning to civilian life, military personnel—and, likewise, law enforcement officers—carry this stress-laden emotional baggage, which can produce multitudinous residual effects. Generally speaking, stress responses begin with anxiety and panic reactions, which often lead to feelings of being overwhelmed or out of control.
Studies have indicated that nearly one-quarter of law enforcement officers are alcohol dependent as a result of on-the-job stress; however, researchers believe that this estimate falls well below the true number due to incomplete reporting. The unique subculture of the law enforcement profession often makes alcohol use appear as an accepted practice to promote camaraderie and social interaction among officers. What starts as an occasional socializing activity, however, later can become a dangerous addiction as alcohol use evolves into a coping mechanism to camouflage the stress and trauma experienced by officers on a daily basis. When the effects of the alcohol wear off, however, the stress or trauma that led to the drinking episode still exists.
When officers suffer the aftermath of trauma, they are not alone. Many who tout their “tough guy” image, see themselves as weak or abnormal if they seek help, and believe that admitting psychological or emotional pain will result in disciplinary action and, perhaps, job dismissal. Unfortunately, however, severe anxiety reactions have far-reaching impacts, not only on the officers suffering the trauma but, importantly, on their colleagues, the families they love, and the public they have sworn to protect and serve.
Not a profession I would like to be in.
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