One third of first responders are using alcohol to ‘cope’

A police officer stands in a train station

Don’t dull the trauma, process it

When we think of alcoholism, a young and healthy 20-something police officer doesn’t spring to mind.

Yet, people who work in emergency services are exposed to high levels of trauma, which can lead to substance abuse.

29% of firefighters abuse alcohol and 10% drugs, 11% of male police officers (and 16% of female) are at risk of alcoholism.

Substance abuse is intrinsically linked to PTSD and other mental health disorders.

For first responders especially, substance reliance needs to be dealt with as soon as possible.

Studies show that those who drink alone have a 50% higher chance of becoming an alcoholic by age 25.

Most people start their career in emergency services in their 20’s and, unless managed from the beginning, mental health deterioration is a possibility.

The problem is, young people in their 20’s consider themselves too young for recovery or treatment.

Early intervention is absolutely critical

‘Rookies’ experience little to no trauma. Two years in, 27% of officers report alcohol abuse, and 36% within four years.

What this tells us is trauma compounds over time, as does alcohol reliance.

Police officer’s occupational stress doesn’t just put workers at risk of alcohol issues.

This is paired with major psychological problems such as acute stress disorder, PTSD, anxiety and depression.

Add to this, the culture of silence and that workers aren’t given the care and attention that’s necessary to process trauma – events that would mark the everyday person’s psyche negatively for life.

It’s just another day in the life of a first responder.

Alcohol tends to become a coping mechanism for these mental health issues, which is fraught with danger.

Avoid self-medicating with alcohol

For up to 50% of first responders, addiction follows mental disorders.

Witnessing disturbing events such as car accidents, murders, suicides, violence and drug use is enough for officers to want to reach for a drink to forget it all.

But that’s the issue, it’s a temporary method of numbing, instead of actively processing the trauma as it happens.

Young workers also reported feeling the pressure to ‘fit in’ and ‘be part of the team.’

Especially for those in their 20s, people who don’t drink usually get asked, “what’s wrong with you?”

It’s that camaraderie that can morph into peer pressure to drink.

There are also the long shifts, the missed moments with family, and infrequent home-cooked meals.

All of these occupational and lifestyle pressures make coping even more difficult.

Coming home after a long shift when all the family is asleep, a beer or glass of wine can keep you ‘company.’

This is how an unhealthy relationship with alcohol forms.

But this isn’t just about you and your family. As a police officer, this affects everyone in your community. You’ve got an entire family here, looking after you.

Let’s drop the ‘tough guy’ (and girl) act

Rookies, there’s health insurance coverage that’s designed just for you. 

Police Health is open to people in emergency services (plus their families).

The Extras are designed to be USED, so it’s easier to keep your ‘trauma bucket’ empty.

With Police Health, you have access to psychologists and counsellors, who can help treat your relationship with alcohol.

The key is, for anyone in policing, but especially those who are young, to remain mentally fit by leveraging these support services.

No, this doesn’t make you weak. If anything, showing initiative to process trauma as it comes up is the epitome of keeping the community safe.

It starts with you.

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