A mental health organization in the UK reports that in male dominated occupations there exists a heavier drinking culture. They listed middle-ranking civil servants, bar staff and armed forces personnel as groups that would have a higher than normal risk of alcohol related problems for men. It is not a far leap then, that women in male-dominated civil servant militaristic jobs, such as policing, would have a significant chance of fitting into this same category. This drinking culture, coupled with the stress of policing, can be a cocktail of disaster in the lives of our police officers today.
We've all experienced the after-shift "choir practices" at our local pub or police club. When shift change is over, we head out to the local establishment to "debrief" the day's or evening's events and wind down a little. Our police service works two 12-hour day shifts with a 24 hour break, and then two 12-hour night shifts, followed by four days off. The most common day to have a night out was what we called long change--after our second day shift. Some organizations have crazy hours, where officers get off shift at 11 or 12 p.m. and really have only a sleeping family to go home to, so they hit the nearest bar for a drink to relax.
Interestingly, the same study in the UK indicated that for men, driving instructors and taxi drivers were among the groups of men least likely to have alcohol-related problems. For women, it was educational assistants, primary and nursery teachers and childcare workers. That, coming from cities and towns that have a pub on almost every corner!
Knowing that we are in a stressful profession that has a stronger historical drinking culture, we should recognize the additional risk drinking can be on our lives and professions. One only has to look in your own local newspaper to see police officers arrested by their own members for DUI, to recognize that we could have potential problems if things do not change.
For females this can even be a harder struggle. We want to fit in with everyone else and we want to be part of the choir practice after work. But what we need to recognize is that our bodies do not handle alcohol the same way our male counterparts do. I remember one of our female officers going up to her training officer and saying, "Hey, Partner--bet I can drink you under the table!" The problem is that the female body is not used to significant alcohol consumption. When you drink a beer, it passes through your digestive tract and gets dispersed in the water in your body. The more water available, the more diluted the alcohol becomes. With men, being usually much larger than women, they have, by their sheer size, more water available in their body and can absorb the alcohol much better. Drinking your larger male partner "under the table" could almost kill a woman, I'm sure.
Excessive drinking not only affects your health--it can also affect you socially. Leaning on your married partner in a drunken stupor can start all kinds of rumors and stories that are likely to quickly end either a friendship or a marriage. That, you don't want.
I saw a quote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra that said "Drink moderately; for drunkenness neither keeps a secret, nor observes a promise." That is so true. Can you remember waking up in the morning and not recalling much of the night before? Well, that's a red flag, ladies. It's time to rethink your drinking habits. It's okay to go out for a drink or two with colleagues, but that's where it should end.
I still hear the same story over and over again about the female officer who slept with a bunch of the guys from work while she was drunk at a platoon party. That was 20 years ago! These rumors sure have a good shelf life. The poor girl is married with children, and can't get out from under the stigma.
As police officers, we should take the time to recognize issues with alcohol consumption with our other colleagues. You may want to give that new rookie female cop some advice before it ends up haunting her for her career. If you do recognize significant alcohol consumption on a regular basis in one of your colleagues, there may be much more wrong with the situation than just trying to have a good time. The profession of policing is full of people who become depressed or suffer from post traumatic stress disorder who choose alcohol as a way to "take the edge off." We must also remember that police are not immune to suicides as well. A few misjudgments, and we can find ourselves in a bad spot, personally and professionally. Many officers have been there and many have taken their lives. It's up to us to intervene and offer help.
So the next time you go for drinks with the platoon, think about what you are doing. Have a couple, but not too many. And if someone says they can drink you under the table. Say "No, thanks --I grew out of that stage years ago!"