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Alcohol awareness

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.

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. Here are some questions to think about:

  • Do you drink to be social, to connect and be with family, friends, and colleagues?
  • Do you enjoy the taste?
  • Do you find it helps you unwind and relieve stress?
  • Do you drink to forget, or to be able to put difficult things aside in your mind?
  • Do you binge drink? Do you ever black out?
  • Do you drink to help regulate your mood or mindset?
  • How often are you drinking?
  • How many units are you drinking per day? Per week?

To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level if you drink most weeks:

  • Men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.
  • Spread your drinking over 3 or more days if you regularly drink as much as 14 units in a week.
  • If you want to cut down, try to have several drink-free days each week.

The Link Between Police Work, Alcohol, and Traumatic Stress

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.

Is the Problem Worse in Policing?

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.

What is drinking too much?

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:

The extent of the problem

A study about alcohol use and police officers found 4 main occupational demands that can trigger alcohol abuse. They are:

Reacting unemotionally to the daily stresses of the job (depersonalisation)

Lack of organisational protection of officers from criticism

Authoritarian demands from managers

Daily awareness of the dangers of the job

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.

Help to manage your drinking

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:

  • Speaking with your manager or a colleague
  • Contacting occupational health through a self-referral or by asking your manager to refer you
  • Speaking to a federation rep or staff association member
  • Contacting counselling or EAP if you have one
  • Talking to your GP or practice nurse

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:

  • Needing to drink to “cope” at work
  • Going to work hungover repeatedly after drinking a lot the night / day before
  • Colleagues telling you they smell alcohol
  • You cannot concentrate or you are having memory problems

 

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.

Additional help

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 Helpline0300 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

In an acute crisis or if there is a risk to life or harm to self or others you should attend your nearest hospital emergency department (A&E) or call 999.

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