July 22, 2015

Police Officers and Alcoholism

There was once a time when alcoholism and substance abuse was seen as a moral failing. Fortunately, a handful of physicians closely examined the cause of addiction and how it can develop. It was discovered that alcoholism is, in fact, a treatable disease. This discovery was made over 100 years ago, and yet, entirely too many people still believe that having problems with drugs or alcohol is a moral issue or due to the lack of will power. This incorrect belief has led many people to lose their jobs and miss out on treatment that would otherwise help them regain control of their lives.

Alcoholism and the Disease Model

Approximately 25 years ago, the American Medical Association acknowledged that dependency on drugs or alcohol are diseases. The disease model of addiction was created approximately 75 years prior to that acceptance. This timeframe signifies how deeply rooted the concept that alcoholism is a moral shortcoming. Fortunately, alcoholism is now treated as a disease and numerous methods of treatment have been devised to help those suffering from it.

Despite the acceptance by the medical community, entirely too many people still view dependence on drugs and alcohol as a moral failing that can be fixed with willpower alone. This viewpoint is prevalent in many facets of society, particularly among police officers. Therefore, police officers who suffer from the disease of alcoholism are often ashamed of their dependence and fail to seek the treatment they require.

How to Treat Alcoholism

There are a variety of treatment options available, with different approaches working for different people. Some of the treatments that have been shown to be effective are:

Residential treatment
Sometimes known as rehab, residential treatment programs are ideal for those with a debilitating dependence on alcohol and other substances. The length of stay will depend on the facility and the recommendations made after reviewing the person’s situation. Stays can range from 30 days up to a full year. Once the stay has ended, the patient will be clean, sober and have an action plan for remaining sober.
Outpatient treatment
Some alcoholics are able to make use of outpatient treatments in order to gain and retain sobriety. These treatments range from cognitive-behavior therapy to family therapy, and may even include motivational incentives. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs fit into this category and have been shown to be effective.
Medicinal-based treatment
There are three prescription medicines that have received FDA approval for use when treating alcohol dependency: disulfiram, acamprosate, naltrexone. Each medication works in different ways, but they all help reduce cravings and the effects of alcohol. These medicines may be used with other forms of treatment.

Police Officers and Alcoholism

Police officers deal with stress on trauma almost every day that they head into work. This often leads to drinking as a method of stress relief, which can become an addiction in some people. According to Police: The Law Enforcement Magazine, 20-25% of working police officers are chemically dependent on alcohol or other harmful substances. These addictions can wreak havoc on officer’s personal lives, and it often spread into their personal lives.

Unfortunately, many officers still believe that addiction is a sign of weakness. They wish to remain stoic and strong, believing that seeking help will jeopardize their career or image. Fortunately, great strides have been made in the law enforcement community to allow addicted officers to seek help without fear of losing their jobs. Together, police officers can support each other and help end the stigma that it is a character flaw. Alcoholism is a disease – and one that should be treated.


  1. Mark W. Clark, Treatment and Redemption, Police: The Law Enforcement Magazine, June 18, 2013, http://www.policemag.com/channel/careers-training/articles/2013/06/treatment-and-redemption.aspx
  2. DrugFacts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction, National Institute on Drug Abuse, September 2009, http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction
  3. Robert A Matano and Stanley F Wanat, Addiction is a treatable disease, not a moral failing., US National Library of Medicine, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1070736/

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