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Cops & Alcoholism: The Truth About Alcohol Abuse Among Police Officers

Cops & Alcoholism: The Truth About Alcohol Abuse Among Police Officers

Every job is stressful, but because police officers are often the first ones at the scene of any emergency, their job can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.

With their everyday life often including such high stakes, being a police officer can take its toll. For some police officers, solace is at the bottom of a bottle.

A Look at Police Officers & Alcohol Abuse

Because they frequently witness traumatic events, it is not uncommon for police officers to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Anywhere from 7 to 19% of police officers in the United States experience PTSD symptoms compared to only 3.5% of the general adult population in the country.1,2 Because these numbers are more than double the general population, it is clear that the job is partially to blame. Coping with PTSD can be challenging and especially if people refuse to get mental health treatment, they may look for alternative means of managing their symptoms.

It is not uncommon for people suffering with mental health problems like PTSD to turn to alcohol or drugs for comfort. Drinking becomes a way to forget about their problems and sometimes becomes a regular sleep aid. When this type of coping behavior becomes habitual, an addiction can occur, and most people will then need substance abuse treatment as well.

This pattern appears to hold true for police as well. They may be turning to drugs and alcohol to forget about the horrors they see on the job or to help them sleep when nightmares surrounding these scenes keep them up at night. While the research on the topic varies, one study found that substance abuse among police officers is around 20-30%.3 By comparison, the prevalence of drug use disorders and alcohol dependence for the general population of adults in the United States is estimated to be 9.9% and 5.8% respectively.4,5

Part of the problem is the relationship between police officers and alcoholism. Some studies show rates as high as 25% of police officers meeting the criteria for alcoholism, but others say these numbers were exaggerated, and the actual rate is likely closer to 8%.6 Regardless of where exactly the number lies between the two, alcohol abuse among police officers is higher than the general population that is estimated to be around 5.8%.5 While many officers were not found to be dependent on alcohol, the connection between police and alcohol is still concerning.  In the study, 11% of female officers and 16% of male officers had consumed enough alcohol in the past week to put them at risk of developing an alcohol abuse disorder.6 For some, their heavy drinking had negatively impacted their lives socially.  Around 18% of male officers and 16% of female officers surveyed admitted that drinking had interfered with social life and relationships with others.6

Although alcohol abuse among police officers is high, not everyone is getting the treatment they need. At Banyan Treatment Centers, we offer addiction treatment for police officers and first responders that is tailored to their specific needs. This special program addresses the problems that are most common among first responders and helps them reenter their field of work if they so choose.

If someone you care about is a police officer or first responder and needs help, do not wait. Call us today at 888-280-4763 to learn more.


  1. NCBI - Police stressors and health: a state-of-the-art review
  2. American Psychiatry Association - What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?
  3. Hein Online - Police On-Duty Drug Use: A Theoretical and Descriptive Examination
  4. JAMA Network - Epidemiology of DSM-5Drug Use DisorderResults From the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions–III
  5. NIH - Alcohol Facts and Statistics
  6. NIH - Patterns and Predictors of Alcohol Use in Male and Female Urban Police Officers
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.