July 29, 2015

How to Identify Alcoholism in a Police Officer

Police officers have a vital position within every modern society. They keep the peace and protect us from harm. Additionally, they’re looked up to as role models as the ideal of integrity and justice. Due to this role, many police officers are often ashamed and secretive about any alcohol or substance abuse issues that they may have. This often leads to self-imposed isolation and other harmful symptoms of alcoholism.

Research has shown that alcoholism and drug abuse is higher within the police force than the general population. This alarming statistic is believed to be due to the multi-faceted stressors and trauma that police officers are exposed to on a daily basis. Combined with the police culture that promotes drinking as a stress reliever and social activity, many officers find themselves facing a serious addiction.

How to Identify Alcoholism in a Police Officer

Identifying alcoholic behavior in a police officer is the first step towards helping them find sobriety and regaining control of their lives. Below are some of the most common external warning signs of a battle with alcoholism:

Self-imposed isolation

Particularly popular among police officers who are ashamed of their drinking, isolation is a common warning sign of alcoholism. Isolation typically begins by simply having a few beers just to “relax after hard day’s work,” and is associated with mentally, socially or emotionally withdrawing from anyone around them at the time. This often leads to withdrawing to a private room or part of the house as the drinking continues. As the disease progresses, the alcoholic may abandon all pretense of drinking to relax or socially and head directly to a place where they can privately consume alcohol when they return from work.

Typically also associated with isolation is the tendency for alcoholics to abandon hobbies and interests that used to occupy their time. They’ll drop out of social clubs, cease playing sports they once loved and even reduce the number of friends they spend their time with. All of this is in favor of drinking during any free time they have, which may occur in isolation.

Financial Problems
A widespread sign of any alcoholic is having issues financially. Most of their spare money will go towards buying alcohol. In some situations, they may even shirk other financial obligations in order to afford their drink of choice. Since police officers are paid a life supporting wage, if an officer starts regularly asking for money, this may be a sign of alcoholism.
Mood Swings
A serious alcohol addiction impacts the mood of the alcoholic when they’re drinking and when they’re sober. When sober, they might be easily agitated, anxious or depressed. Once they start drinking again, they may suddenly shift towards being in a good mood and acting upbeat. However, some alcoholics will become increasingly depressed and have enhanced isolationist tendencies when drinking. If you suspect someone is developing a problem with alcohol, keeping an eye on their moods will be an important warning sign.

Ideal Treatment Methods for Police Officers Battling Alcoholism

Treatment for police officers is typically not much different than any other alcoholic. This means that treatment should be tailored for the individual in order help them gain and protect their sobriety. Since most police officers who drink do so to relieve stress, cultivating new habits that help them deal with stress will be key. Encouraging the officer to rebuild an active social life will also play a big role in forming a lasting lifestyle focused on sobriety, especially for those who tend to isolate themselves.


  1. Steven Gifford, LICDC, LPC, Identifying Signs of Addiction, PsychCentral, January 2013, http://psychcentral.com/lib/identifying-signs-of-addiction/
  2. Smith DR, Devine S, Leggat PA, Ishitake T., Alcohol and tobacco consumption among police officers., 2005, US National Library of Medicine, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16119615

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