Officers and Addiction

There was a time when agencies just cast out the chemically dependent police officer; now the focus is on salvaging careers and lives.
Published: September 29, 2013

Police officers deal with addiction constantly. Drug addicts and alcoholics are responsible for a great deal of crime in the beats they patrol, so officers are quite skilled at dealing with them on the streets. Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies are not as adept at dealing with addicts and alcoholics in their own ranks.

But that may be changing. There are positive steps being taken to help law enforcement organizations see that an addicted officer as not a throwaway employee but a valuable human resource who can be treated and redeemed. With the help of strategic partnerships and programs aimed at treating addicted officers, treatment centers are opening their doors to first responders, helping them get better and return to work.

Nearly 1 in 4 Officers Are Addicted

Statistics show that 20% to 25% of working police officers are chemically dependent on either alcohol or drugs.

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Addiction tends to manifest itself differently in officers than in the rest of society simply by the nature of law enforcement work and societal expectations. Officers most likely won’t resort to petty theft or drug dealing to feed their addictions, but that doesn’t mean that their addictions aren’t destructive and dangerous to their careers, families and even their lives.

Friends, family, and co-workers are most likely to see an addicted officer gradually slip into dysfunction and despair. If left unchecked, the addiction will do damage to the officer’s career. Co-workers of an addicted officer may say that the officer is moody, lazy or a pain in the ass.

It’s usually not long before command takes notice of the addicted officer, and not in a good way.

“Supervisors may see an officer who is a poor performer, late for his or her shift, or who just looks bad in the uniform,” says Sgt. Andy Callaghan, director of the Peer Support Program of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5.

Callaghan has 24 years of police experience and believes that addiction among law enforcement officers is closely related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Many officers who have PTSD turn to alcohol or prescription drugs to self-medicate,” says Callaghan.

Off duty, addicted officers’ lives will most likely be wrecked. They may spend their days off struggling to keep it together with their families and trying to hang onto their health. But when the weekend is over, it’s back to work where they try to keep their careers from falling apart. It’s a spin cycle that will end in either loss of job, freedom or life.

Painkiller Addiction Plagues Cops

Up until a few years ago alcoholism was by far the most common chemical dependency problem faced by officers. Today, the most common monkey on the back of officers is the painkiller.

Officers get injured, and with the injury can come prescribed pain medications to bring relief. That’s where the addiction often starts.

Callaghan has seen a marked increase in officers addicted to painkillers and sleeping medications over the past few years. He says that it is common to have support groups made up of half or more officers in the group addicted to prescription drugs.

HIPAA, FMLA Help Those Who Self-Disclose

Not only has the drug of choice changed for officers, so have the ways the profession looks at addicted members of law enforcement.

That means the options available to officers who need help with drug addiction are ever increasing. Thanks to strategic partnerships with law enforcement executive organizations, department bosses are being taught to accept the fact that some officers become addicted and need help.

Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series