How to help a fellow officer struggling with alcohol abuse
There are those among us who have admitted to themselves that they can’t have a drink – it is our responsibility to help them, not make it harder for them
If you are struggling with alcohol or other substance abuse, help is available. SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
Have you ever asked to buy a fellow officer a drink off duty and received this response?
“I’ll have a soda.”
What did you say or do?
“Grow a Pair”
An incredible amount of pressure is placed upon adults in social settings to drink alcohol – or else! When an adult – especially a male adult – requests a soda at a social gathering, it will often inspire someone within earshot to offhandedly jab something like, “Why don’t you get yourself a big boy drink.”
I have a great deal of empathy for my fellow officers who decide to stop drinking. They have admitted to themselves that alcohol is something that is negatively impacting their lives, relationships and careers. This takes courage. For these officers, every day can become a struggle to free themselves from the grip of alcohol.
These officers will go to work and their colleagues will rush to their assistance as they struggle with a belligerent suspect. Yet off-duty in their struggle with alcohol, these same officers will pile on by insisting, “Come on! Have a drink with us!”
Some will act as if their very friendship is in jeopardy if drinks are not shared together.
Picture how it must feel for an officer precariously perched on the proverbial wagon. Not only do they have to resist temptation brought on by the constant presence of alcohol at every social event, but they also have the additional pressure of a fellow officer insisting they need to “grow a pair” by having a drink.
Even if they resist taunts like this, these officers will sometimes find unsolicited shots or their favorite beer suddenly placed in front of them by a bartender. A well-meaning friend across the room will be smiling and waving at them while holding up their own drink: brutal pressure.
I do not malign anyone in any way who can relax and have a drink with friends after work. My purpose here is to serve notice to all officers that there are those among us who have admitted to themselves that they can’t have a drink – it is our task as brothers and sisters to help them, not make it harder for them.
Even after a person admits their addiction to themselves, it is still difficult to say to friends and casual acquaintances, “I can’t do shots with you ever again, because I am an alcoholic.”
How You Can Help an officer addicted to alcohol
Helping a friend and fellow officer struggling with alcohol abuse requires the expenditure of no blood or sweat, but it still may be a matter of life and death to that individual. Here are five ways you can support them:
- Don’t sarcastically ask, “What’s the deal with the soda?” They will talk to you about it in their own time.
- Never question a fellow officer who decides he or she has had enough alcohol on a given night or for the rest of their life. You trust their judgment on the street, so trust their judgment in a bar.
- When someone shares with you that they have a problem with alcohol, you must realize they never again need to secure your friendship by sharing a drink. It has been secured by sharing such deeply personal information.
- Praise their courageousness and tell them you are here for them night and day to help.
- Realize that an alcoholic can’t have just one drink with you – it’s nothing personal.
Buy a Soda
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 14.1 million adults ages 18 and older have alcohol use disorder. This means that the chances are high that someone you consider a friend is quietly struggling with his or her physical and psychological addiction to alcohol.
So when you offer them a drink and they request a soda, without question or commentary, just smile at them, tell them it’s good to see them, and buy them a soda.
This article, originally published 08/05/2015, has been updated.