Law Enforcement Professionals and Substance Problems

Law enforcement professionals have some of the highest stress jobs in our society. They must routinely manage potentially life-endangering threat and related stress. Even a good day at work has injurious and lethal threat crouching not too far in the background. At any moment on the job, things can go horribly wrong.

While the potential for serious physical threat is ever present for law enforcement professionals, there are other layers of stress that put this profession into a league of its own. For example, law enforcement personnel are routinely exposed to tragedy and trauma. They may witness the gruesome aftermath of violence, view serious injuries and death, assist in life-saving measures, and even use maiming or lethal force themselves. Each of these types of experiences can overwhelm, shock and tax psychological resources.

Stresses Unique to Law Enforcement Professionals

Naturally, not everyone goes to work with the same stress and expectations that law enforcement personnel do. Although, there are other professions that share a similar threat of danger and expose professionals to traumatic scenes. First responders of any type such as firefighters or paramedics go toward violence, danger, and chaos while the rest of us back away. All such professions have their own unique difficulties, with a range of stress types and origins.

Law enforcement personnel have many potential sources of stress to cope with daily. For example, there is stress from the organizational structure of the job. Just as in any other, there are details to be attended to such as paperwork, policies, and procedures. Additionally, pay is often low, does not adequately compensate for the risk involved, and the possibility of advancement up through the ranks is limited.

Law enforcement personnel also interface with other cumbersome organizations such as law enforcement agencies in other jurisdictions, and the judicial system. There are many opportunities to feel one’s hard work is for naught when cases fall apart, courts do not convict, or criminals receive light sentences.

Also, law enforcement officers must contend with job-related stigma, the public’s negative stereotyping of them, and the media’s often sensationalized and selective portrayals of their efforts and stories they are involved in.

Families and Job-Related Stress in Law Enforcement

The family members of law enforcement personnel have their own unique stressors. They, too, carry the daily stress of potential harm for their loved ones, and every work shift brings its own worry, dread, and fear. Officers and their families can become somewhat desensitized to this daily stress, although that does not mean the anxiety vanishes. It simply means that after living with it for long periods of time, one gets ‘used to it’.

When the officer is using substances, the stress exponentially increases for loved ones. In the best of times, family members can soothe themselves with remembering the officer’s skill, experience, instincts, and training. However, when aware of a substance problem, loved ones know all too well that the officer with a problem is not on top of his game.

Conflict in the home is always a possibility when one family member works a highly stressful job. The same is true when one family member is having an ongoing substance problem. These two issues combine into an overwhelming hybrid of stressors in a family that must cope with both on a daily basis.

Compassion Fatigue and Job Burnout

Law enforcement officers deal with the public and the community at large in intimate ways that most of us never will. They encounter people who need immediate assistance, who need containment for the public’s safety, who are mentally ill, are in the process of committing criminal acts, or who have been assaulted… They respond to any community calamity, disaster, mishap or unusual event. They are the people we call when anything has gotten out of our control.

Their roles are multi-faceted and typically not pleasant or agreeable in many people’s eyes who are also on the scene. Officers may serve as the ultimate authority in a bad situation, as the keeper of the peace, or the enforcer of safety. They commonly perform heroic acts on the behalf of others. However, officers can develop compassion fatigue, becoming depleted while attending to the needs of others. They also have high burnout rates, depleted by the overall demands of the job.

The Secrecy of an Addiction

Keeping one’s addiction secret is not unique to law enforcement personnel who have substance problems. It is common for everyone with a problem and in all walks of life. There are many reasons for this, and shame and guilt are chief among them.

Officers can fear the loss of their careers if their substance problems become known to higher-ups or colleagues. They fear losing credibility and trust but also fear being deemed unfit for service. On a more personal level, the guilt and shame of an addiction often involve feeling inadequate, weak, and incompetent. They are also at high risk for severe depression and self-harm.

It is unfortunate that many suffer longer than they need to, and that risks escalate as the addictive illness progresses. The common negative effects of an addiction in any life carry especially high risks for an officer and the public. Addiction impairs judgment, alters decision-making and problem-solving abilities, and, depending on the substance used, diminishes response time or increases impulsivity. Addiction also leaves one prone to emotionality, with poor coping strategies, easy frustration and a frequent lack of patience.

Resistance to Treatment

Not only does the shame, guilt, and stigma of being an addicted officer of the law pose dramatic personal conflicts, but they also create significant obstacles and barriers to addiction treatment. Resistance to treatment can postpone the necessary remedy for returning to workable to perform well, and for returning home able to better manage that life arena.

It is a common phenomenon that people from all walks of life who are addicted resist the idea of treatment for a long time before getting help. Shame, guilt, and stigma play their parts, but also a core characteristic of addictive illness is at work. Denial is a cardinal symptom of addiction and leaves one simply unable to even perceive there is a problem caused by one’s substance use. Even if others address it, denial can’t make sense of their concerns. Concerned people seem to be missing the mark, exaggerating, making things up, or misinformed.

Privacy and Confidentiality Concerns for Officers

Law enforcement personnel rightfully have concerns about privacy and confidentiality when seeking addiction treatment. They may be known to other participants in a rehab facility in their own community. And, they may have encountered other participants while carrying out their work duties. It is natural to have concerns about such possible scenarios. Consequently, to better ensure privacy and an officer’s ability to best make use of a treatment program, arrangements are often made for treatment in another location away from the community in which he or she works.

It is understandably difficult for an officer to go to addiction rehab. The chance of encountering negative reactions

from other participants concerns, many since their work frequently involves addiction-related arrests. Traveling to treatment even just a short distance away from one’s home community can afford greater privacy and confidentiality, clearing treatment barriers for officers. If these are concerns for you or a loved one, we can help you find treatment options that will protect your privacy and confidentiality.

If You Have Doubts

If you are a law enforcement officer in need of addiction treatment or have a loved one who is, you may have doubts about how this can work in your life. However, there are solutions and at Elite Rehab Placement we will work with you in a free consultation to find appropriate recommendations for you.

If you feel ambivalent about going to treatment, you may want to talk with trusted family members, friends and colleagues about your situation. Or, seek professional counseling to help you prepare for more intensive treatment if it is needed. It is always helpful to have the feedback of people you trust.

Naturally, you have concerns about the impact of going to treatment upon your professional life. However, you can be certain that you are not alone. Many people in your profession are facing this very issue at the moment.  Also, countless others have successfully overcome their substance problems and returned to work. Many agencies provide services for their employees, and you can seek information and guidance from an employee assistance program in your organization. Keep in mind that you are not unique. Many of your colleagues face similar distress, and all of you have overwhelming stress.

It is always difficult to acknowledge you have a substance problem, but like any other illness, it is a human condition, and no one is immune to it.  We have helped many people in your situation find the help they need. You have carried a lot of responsibility and have given a lot. This is your world, too, and you deserve the opportunity to take care of yourself and your family.

There are solutions, and you are not a failure. Your chosen profession has put you and your colleagues in an especially vulnerable position to turn to substances for their self-medicating effects. However, treatment works, and your recovery is more than possible. You can overcome the substance problem you have and resume a healthy, productive life. You and your family deserve a better life.

Reach out to us today. We have done our homework and have an extensive database of information. Our free consultation with help you identify exactly what programs are suited to deal with your particular situation.