The relationship between neurological conditions, substance disorders & high-stress police work

A police officer sitting down

A big cost

The burden of brain disorders cost the Australian economy more than heart disease, cancer, and respiratory disease, combined. 

Substance abuse disorders have the highest growth rate between 2010 – 2017 (24.7%), followed by neurological disorders (15.6%) and mental disorders (8.6%).

Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are the leading neurological disorders, followed by Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

Neuropathy is a nerve disorder that also falls into this category (caused by the result of systematic diseases, like diabetes).

Alcohol, drug use and tobacco are major triggers for these conditions – and in people over 65, substance abuse impacts one in five.

Daily psychological stressors in police work lead to long-term effects

There’s a strong connection between the stress of being a police officer and psychological outcomes.

From neurological disorders associated with malnutrition to traumatic brain injuries, police officers are a high-risk group.

Let’s take Alzheimer’s disease, for example.

Age, poor sleep patterns, past head trauma, lifestyle and heart health all play a role in the likelihood of getting this condition. 

A lack of exercise, obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, and type-2 diabetes are major risk factors – all of which are issues that shift-working, chronically-stressed police officers have to battle.

In one study, officers experiencing the highest level of stress were four to six times more likely to have poor sleep.

Suicide rates were eight times higher, and the risk of brain cancer rose greatly after 30 years (or more) of police service.

Emergency staff stand in the firing line, high-speed car chases, and handling people who need to be restrained.

There might be drugs and alcohol involved, making it more difficult to calm the person.

This can lead to head trauma and injuries – which can cause conditions like epilepsy.

Is PTSD a brain disease?

We know that one in five officers suffer from PTSD.

And recent studies are shedding light into this psychological adjustment disorder, proving that PTSD is linked to dementia.

And the problem with PTSD is that it’s lifelong.

John Marx, ex officer and author of Amor Your Self, talks about “emptying your buckets” and letting go of that trauma, as it comes up.

There are plenty of ways to do this, such as seeing a psychologist or counsellor, journaling, meditation, and relying on a support system.

Substances like drugs and alcohol aren’t coping mechanisms, and only exacerbate mental health problems and future neurological complications.

Police Health exists to support officers maintain good health through the life of their career. From Exercise Physiotherapy and Dietary support, Psychology and Counselling, Medications to Complementary Therapies, our coverage is designed for people working in the force.

Your brain is your number one weapon. Let us help you protect it.

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