If you drink alcohol, it’s good to take a minute to consider how and why you drink.
It’s important to evaluate your relationship with alcohol.
Being in policing means that you have regular exposure to stress and trauma at far greater levels than the average person. In addition to the potential for physical harm in the line of duty, officers witness traumatic and disturbing events and images and experience stress related to their roles and reception by their community. Because of your unique profession, these issues can mean there’s an increased risk for problem drinking, either because of social pressures to drink (to ‘fit in’ with your peers), or as a way of controlling stress, anxiety, and depression levels.
There’s nothing wrong with drinking, but if it’s your main way of coping with stress, then it can become a serious issue. Drinking too much can mask the stress levels that lie underneath and can also negatively affect the quality of your work, your health, and your relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.
Research has shown that many officers demonstrate a great deal of psychological resilience in the face of disasters and traumatic events in the line of duty, even when compared with other rescue workers. However, when nontraumatic job stressors (such as workload, fewer resources, administrative problems, or poor community relations) are present, officers exposed to traumatic events demonstrate a high prevalence for psychological distress and stress disorders such as PTSD. Researchers found that when officers have a stress disorder, they are far more likely to drink alcohol as a way of managing their symptoms.
Occasional drinking as described in points 1 to 3 above would constitute “normal” social drinking and would not be considered a concern by a healthcare professional. Points 4 to 8 could be a sign something is wrong, or you could be experiencing alcohol dependency. If the questions in points 4 to 8 sound like you it is worth seeking help.
Over a prolonged period drinking too much can have a bad effect on your body and mental wellbeing. Alcohol takes time to work its way through your body (metabolise). If you don’t give your body time to recover you could experience:
A study about alcohol use and police officers found 4 main occupational demands that can trigger alcohol abuse. They are:
If officers dealing with high stress levels do not have the ability or access to better ways of coping (i.e., debriefing, emotional support, exercise, meditation, healthy diet, enough sleep), alcohol can become the main way of coping. There is a strong tie between police officers’ problem drinking, and the anxiety and depression that occur because of combined organisational and traumatic stressors.
If you have concerns talk to a close friend, your family or partner if you can. If you think your drinking habits are affecting you at work, you should seek help. You can do this by:
If you are working and you believe your alcohol habits are affecting you in work, it is important to seek help. Examples or how alcohol could be affecting you at work:
Some forces conduct random alcohol or drug tests, particularly in safety critical roles (e.g., response driver, firearms officer). If you are worried contact occupational health and / or your line manager. Remember you could be making things unsafe for yourself or others. Its is a good idea to understand your force alcohol policy (sometimes referred to as substance) if alcohol is infringing on your work.
There are now many apps that can help log and monitor how much alcohol you’re consuming. Drinkcontol, DrinkCoach, and Drinkaware are some of the most popular. There are also a few external agencies who can help you to decide if, how and when to seek help:
NHS - Alcohol misuse - NHS (www.nhs.uk) or call NHS 111 (24 hour)
Drinkaware - Drinkaware Home | Drinkaware
Drinkaware Helpline: 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am–8pm, weekends 11am–4pm)
Samaritans - Call 116 123 (24 hour)
Police Care UK – Care line 0300 0300 012
Alcoholics Anonymous - https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk
Al-Anon – for families and friends - https://www.al-anonuk.org.uk