Suffering in Silence: Cops and Booze

Cops. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em.

We love them when they rescue Miss Kitty from the storm drain.

Not so when they write us a ticket for doing 50 in a 35.

Whatever your perspective on cops, consider this. Cops have significantly higher rates of alcoholism, along with suicide and divorce, than the general public. 

Which means that along with the power comes a measure of pain.

A Widespread Problem

Alcohol abuse among cops is both serious and widespread. Some studies estimate that between one-quarter to one-third of all police officers in the U.S. have drinking problems.

And it’s no coincidence that law enforcement is considered one of the top most stressful occupations in the country.

What makes it so stressful? Interestingly, physical danger doesn’t top the list. Here’s the list:

Stressors Within the Department

  • Poor supervision (too lenient or too tough)
  • Little or no upward mobility
  • No reward system for a job well done
  • Ambiguous policies and procedures
  • Excessive paperwork
  • Poor and outdated equipment

Stressors in the Community

  • Jurisdictional disputes with other agencies
  • An ineffective criminal justice system
  • Biased news reporting
  • Negative attitudes of the public towards police
  • Political interference
  • Lack of community resources 

On the Job Stressors

  • The pain and anguish of crime victims (yes, cops do care)
  • Conflict between their roles of police officer and of husband, father, Little League coach, etc.
  • Rotating shifts
  • Fear and danger
  • Employee review boards (In New York City, it’s the Civilian Complaint Review Board)

Well, hey, we all have problems, right? Why don’t these cops just take up yoga or see a therapist?

Problem is, it’s not how they roll.

Police culture is like….John Wayne! Be strong. Don’t let ‘em see ya sweat. Never apologize, it’s a sign of weakness.

You get the idea, pilgrim.

It’s a Cultural Thing

Booze has been part of cop culture since the first NYPD officers began pounding the beat in 1845. In the days before “patrol” meant riding around in a climate controlled SUV, a nip or two of brandy was essential to spending eight hours on foot post on a cold winter’s night.

Drinking also was—and still is—the preferred method of dealing with the stress of the job. See, cops don’t generally like to tell their families about the nasty stuff they deal with. They can try to talk to their civilian friends, but frankly if you haven’t ever walked the walk then you’ll never really understand.

Cynicism and distrust of others is very common given the nature of police work. It’s hard to just walk into some strange therapist’s office and begin spilling your guts.

So they drink alone. And when they get together after work. Because sometimes the only person a cop will talk to, is another cop.

Help is Available

As a former EMT and reserve police officer, I’ve had the honor of helping cops, firefighters, EMS personnel and active and retired military service members.  Feel free to call me at 732.291.1993.

Also, in New Jersey we have a fabulous program called Cop2Cop, which offers a 24-hour helpline for police officers and their families. The phones are manned by retired cops who are trained to provide brief counseling and resources for a variety of problems including substance abuse, depression, suicidal thoughts, marital difficulties, and many others.

If you’re on the job and you think you might like to talk to someone who’s been there, done that, here’s the number:

1.866.Cop.2Cop (1.866.267-2267)

You can also visit their website at:

If you’re the family member or friend of a police officer in crisis, I urge you to share the Cop2Cop hotline number with them, ASAP.

James Genovese, LPC, LCADC, is the founding director of Milestone Group, LLC, a full-service counseling and psychotherapy practice located in Atlantic Highlands, NJ. He specializes in treating depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other behavioral health issues. He is also a fully trained EMDR provider. To hear Jim’s recent radio interview on this topic, click here. You can read his research paper on alcoholism and law enforcement by clicking here.

© James Genovese, LPC, LCADC / Milestone Group LLC (2012)