Substance Abuse Among Police Officers Thesis

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Substance Abuse Among Police Officers

One group of people getting help for drug addiction is that of public safety officers, including police officers, firefighters, and EMT workers. These workers typically sacrifice much for others while performing their jobs, and many are seen as heroes to those they help. So when the pressure of a stressful job leaves these public safety officers turning to drugs or alcohol to ease their mind, it becomes hard for them to admit they have an addiction.

These professionals need help for their addictions just like everyone else does. It is important for more of these public officers who have struggled with drug addiction to come forward and tell their story, and encourage others to get help. Statistics on Substance Abuse among this group are hard to find, since many public officers suffering with addiction do so in silence (Jared, 2008).

Increased Vulnerability to Substance Abuse? Why?

The law enforcement profession is becoming more complex and stressful as we enter the 21st century. Solid research has shown the life expectancy, after retirement, of a police officer is much shorter than that of the general population. The suicide rate, divorce rate, and a host of other health related issues, including alcohol abuse, is much higher for police officers than the current national average (Law enforcement wellness association, n.d.).

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Estimates show that alcohol abuse among police officers in the United States is approximately double that of the general population where 1 in 10 adults abuses alcohol (Violanti, Choir Practice:, n.d.).

The reasons for these problems are many, complex, and varied. Unique occupational stresses: shift work, sleep deprivation, critical incident exposure, cumulative and organizational stress, and leadership issues all play a part. Lack of proper diet and exercise coupled with the many stresses of the job is a disastrous recipe often ending in premature death, or a life which, at best, may be categorized as "non-wellness.

Thesis on Substance Abuse Among Police Officers Assignment

Family issues also play a major role in the overall health and well-being of a law enforcement officer. The attitude, health and emotional stability of the law enforcement officer affects the harmony, or lack of harmony, in an officer's home. Children, spouses and significant others are all victims of crippling job stress (Law enforcement wellness association, n.d.).

Stress in police work may also lead to maladaptive behaviors which, in turn, may precipitate disease. Alcohol and tobacco use are examples. Twenty-five percent of police officers have been found to be dependent on alcohol, and a significantly strong positive relationship was found between stress and alcohol use among police (Violanti, n.d.).

What Substance Abuse Can Lead to

Alcohol is an important problem in police work, and may lead to other work problems such as high absenteeism, intoxication on duty, complaints by supervisors and citizens of misconduct on duty, traffic accidents, and an overall decrease in work performance. Alcohol use among police may be underestimated. Many officers, fearing departmental discipline, are unwilling to officially report their dependence. Other departments may "hide" problem drinkers in positions

where they will not adversely affect police operations (Violanti, n.d.).

"Contact with crime, criminals, the 'grey zones' of normative behavior, discretion and officers' substantial autonomy offer ever-present opportunities for corruption in police work," says Professor Tom Mieczkowski, director of graduate studies in the Department of Criminology

at the University of South Florida (Page, 2005, para.2).

"Problems of corruption related to drug abuse have in recent years become a more prominent and pronounced concern of police agencies," Mieczkowski says (Page, 2005, para.4).

While traditional forms of police corruption, including behaviors such as accepting bribes, protecting illegal activities for profit, or receiving kickbacks for tolerance of unlawful activities are believed to have stabilized or even decreased in the United States over the past 100 years, drug-related corruption is generally acknowledged to be on the rise, he says (Page, 2005).

Police officers who begin as recreational users are at risk for entering what is known as a "user driven cycle" of corrupt behavior. This usually begins when a drug-using officer ceases to buy drugs from suppliers, instead confiscating drugs either from apprehended dealers or evidence lockers where drugs are held, both of which can be done with little risk, Mieczkowski says (Page, 2005).

The motivation for seizing drugs is obvious. First, stolen drugs don't cost anything. Second, officers who attempt to buy drugs on the street run the risk of identification and possible blackmail. It is therefore often functionally safer for officers to seize drugs encountered during arrests for personal use.

A major federal 1998 report (GAO/GGD-98-11) on drug-related police corruption found on-duty officers engaged in serious criminal activities, including conducting unconstitutional searches and seizures, stealing drug money and/or drugs from drug dealers, selling stolen drugs, protecting drug operations, providing false testimony, and submitting false crime reports (Page, 2005).

Treatment can be successful in helping people with most serious addiction problems. After treatment, recovering addicts are less likely to be involved in crime and more likely to be employed. Helping people stay off drugs lightens everyone's tax burden by reducing expenses for drug-related law enforcement and health services. Replacing employees is very expensive. Some estimates are more than $7,000 for a salaried worker, more than $10,000 for a mid-level employee, and more than $40,000 for a senior executive (National Crime Prevention Council, n.d.).

How and Why They Should Seek Help

Police officers' drinking problems may lead to an automobile accident, a domestic violence situation, or a citizen's complaint. Extended periods of abuse will lead to the criminal activities we suggested above as means to support their "substance" habit. As the snowball rolls down hill, the abuser's activities become more serious and illegal (Violanti, Choir Practice:..., n.d.).

Ultimately, police abusers are always caught. Then the consequences become legal ones. Families are destroyed, careers are ruined, prison becomes home for the abuser.

These are all good reasons for the officer to initiate a move to seek help either privately or through the department. Most police departments these days have assistance available for drug and alcohol abusers, and the results for the officer are far more successful and satisfying than the alternative of being "apprehended.

However, many police agencies adopt a strategy of getting help for abusers only after they discover a problem. Help may include a referral to an employee assistance program or alcohol rehabilitation clinic (Violanti, Choir Practice:, n.d.).

Agencies often use a late-stage treatment strategy because police managers sometimes lack faith in early detection approaches and view them as ineffective. Yet, if agencies intervene before officers get into trouble, they can help officers onto the road to recovery, avoiding damage to both their personal and professional lives.

Intervention Strategies and Early Intervention

Intervention approaches view the causes of alcohol abuse to be based on the behavior of the officer, as well as being influenced by the officer's social network. Police officers may endure stress, experience peer pressure, and be subjected to isolation -- all within a culture that approves alcohol use. Often times, police officers gather at a local bar after their shifts to relax over a few drinks with their peers and reinforce their own values (Violanti, Choir Practice:..., n.d.).

Furthermore, because of the close-knit police culture, officers may feel reluctant to report colleagues for alcohol related difficulties. Many officers may go to great lengths to protect fellow officers in trouble. If a police department hopes to effectively reduce alcohol abuse, it should intervene early into the very network that reinforces such behavior in the first place -- the police culture. Agencies should get involved as early as the police academy stage and follow up with periodic in-service interventions.

Departments can use numerous strategies for early intervention. For example, they can help

to improve the fitness and well-being of officers, provide education on lifestyle rather than on alcohol itself, initiate stress management programs, and shift the responsibility of detection to individuals other than the affected officer (Violanti, Choir Practice:..., n.d.).

Prevention Strategies

Improve Physical and Mental Fitness: Improving physical and mental fitness represents an important first step in substance abuse prevention. Experts believe that individuals who live unhealthy lives increase their risk of becoming excessive drinkers. Fitness protects against developing destructive habits, which, over time, can lead to health problems. For example, a physically fit individual generally does not smoke and drinks only at a low risk level. Thus poor physical health may prove compatible with excessive drinking because officers may not perceive drinking as worse than other aspects of an unhealthy lifestyle. In this sense, the appropriate target for alcohol prevention becomes the unhealthy lifestyle of the officer rather than the drinking behavior itself (Violanti, Choir Practice:..., n.d.).

Provide Lifestyle Education: Education serves as another part of an alcohol abuse prevention strategy. Individuals unaware of the effects of alcohol risk the development of alcohol related problems. Although the use of such knowledge likely can be affected by values and beliefs, experts argue that the presence of such knowledge reduces the likelihood of alcohol abuse

Reduce Stress: Minimizing stress in the workplace also… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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