Painkillers are a nemesis for so many people. They cause disjointed relationships, broken friendships, lost employment, along with temporary relief from physical pain. However, they also cause lots of other complications in a person’s life. If that person is on the frontlines, serving and protecting the community, it can be hard to admit to having a problem. Police officers often find it hard to talk about what they feel. Work takes up the majority of their weeks, but it doesn’t have to take over their lives. Sometimes, an injury causes them to use painkillers, which results in them using painkillers. There is no permanent solution to these issues. Learning how they impact a loved one’s life, including yourself, can help deal with the fallout from painkiller addiction.
People often think that, because they understand the risks, they will not become addicted to opioid painkillers. Unfortunately, addiction does not discriminate. No matter how resilient and bright you are, addiction can still strike. Many people go on painkillers for chronic pain and find they struggle with addiction and dependence without realizing how it happened. Before they know it, they are addicted and have to find help. Highly stressful work, like police work, can also be a trigger to use something to take the pain away emotionally. Injuries are also more likely during police work than in other professions. Opioids have been the go-to medication for people in pain. Now things are shifting, but not enough to keep frontline officers from being immune to the ravages of painkiller addiction.
While prescription painkillers help mitigate pain, they are not helpful long-term. The side effects can be too significant, including tolerance. For those who are addicted to other substances and in recovery, painkillers can become a secondary addiction for them. It is best not to start with painkillers, if possible, to help with painful symptoms. Some of the side effects may include nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and a feeling of lethargy. Police officers are used to being in command, in control, and taking ownership of a situation. If they are taking drugs and not telling anyone, it can be a dangerous situation. It is also dangerous to use these drugs with alcohol. Furthermore, painkiller medications can exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues. Police officers may notice lower productivity, isolation, and poor attendance on the job. If this is seen in colleagues, it can be a sign they are struggling and need additional support.
Addiction can come with another warning many may not think about: crossover addiction. When an addiction becomes too costly or difficult to maintain, they may turn to pills or illegal drugs from the street. Some officers may actually turn to taking drugs from the busts they do and use those to fill their habit. Although it is not common, it does happen as a way to offset costs for buying pills to supply their addiction. Once a person has made this “crossover”, the habit becomes exponentially more dangerous. Street drugs are not regulated and can often contain harmful additives and fillers. Such opioids can be fatal for police officers who take them without knowing the source of the pills.
Police officers often deal with mental health issues on the job. They struggle with PTSD, secondary trauma, and other challenges. They have a hard time with mental health issues because it is hard to tell their colleagues and boss about it. The climate in police stations is not fully embracing mental health support for police officers as they should. An environment of fear or worry about their jobs may be present, along with shame and blame for mental health issues. These blocks can keep them from dealing with the real problems they face. Instead of seeking help, they end up finding other ways to cope, including alcohol and drugs.
Treatment programs that provide space where officers can be vulnerable about their challenges are essential. In this environment, they no longer have to tiptoe around the stigma associated with seeking help. They learn healthier coping skills and find support for the challenges of addiction. Therapists can provide guidance for their addiction, underlying issues, and lingering trauma from their past. Treatment may also be inclusive of family, where they can seek support for the secondary impacts of addiction and mental health issues. Telling the truth about their addiction helps set addicted police officers free and set them up for success in recovery.
First responders are the first ones on a call. They are the first ones to come in time of crisis and show up with an attitude of confidence and helpfulness. It is hard to realize, then, that police officers are susceptible to addiction. There is hope for them to find healing if they find treatment. Programs that support first responders provide the best help for them and allow them space to grow and learn about themselves in recovery. Aftercare programs can help them discover what they want to do after treatment and help them retain their jobs and careers in law enforcement. The goal is to return home feeling like a new person but also keeping some of the old life that is suitable for them going forward like family and good friends. They just might need extra support to get there.
Strive is a place to come and recover your life from addiction. We support you or your loved one in finding help for addiction and mental health. If you or a loved one are a first responder, call today: 1-888-224-7312