Substance Use and Addiction Among Corrections Officers

Corrections Officers: Occupational Stress

The nature of the job as a Corrections Officer in the United States is taxing, both physically and mentally. Those who choose this career path are tasked with patrolling the ever-growing population of incarcerated prisoners (at the time of this article, there are currently 2.5 million throughout the country), and often witness harrowing situations that can result in substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and suicide. Researchers have found that the average life expectancy of a Corrections Officer is a mere 59 years, whereas the national average is 75. This is largely due to the trauma witnessed while working along with stress, hypertension, physical illnesses, and substance abuse.

Corrections Officers face dire situations on a daily basis. It can include dealing with riots, physical altercations, imposing rules, and encouraging inmates to work on their rehabilitation. This requires the mental capacity to be constantly aware of surroundings, to be disliked or ridiculed, to feel inadequate to assist, and more. Corrections Officers also have to be in outstanding physical shape so they can handle the physical requirements of the job, and also must know how to use firearms, various other enforcement equipment, and how/when to utilize hand-to-hand combat if necessary.

Currently, 500,000 men and women serve as correctional officers in the United States, but as the prison populations increase each year, prisons—more often than not—are understaffed and Officers overworked. To be in top form at all times for the safety of themselves, their co-officers, and the inmates takes a toll. COs have to have a good eye for signs of conflict among inmates, but at the same time must be sources of support or safety for them. It is a lot of things to balance at any given time.

When considering the above statistics, it isn’t hard to understand why some may turn to substances to cope with working as a Corrections Officer. The rate of substance use disorder and addiction is significantly higher for these individuals compared to the general public.


Risk Factors for Corrections Officers

Corrections Officers officers are also at risk of incurring an injury on the job. Injuries can lead to being prescribed addictive opioids to relieve pain, which can then lead to dependence and addiction.

Other risk factors for substance use among Corrections Officers include:

  • PTSD
  • Trauma
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased heart rate, headaches, muscle tension and tremors

Apart from physical ailments, they are also susceptible to mental illness because of the environment in the prisons. They may become aggressive or shut-down after spending a certain amount of time on the job, and often assume a very quiet, “robotic, emotionless” persona to distance themselves. They also may turn to drinking or drugs when seeking relief from the mental difficulties they face while working.

34% of Corrections Officers meet the criteria for PTSD, while they are doubly likely to commit suicide compared to the general public or Police Officers. As their unofficial motto goes, “Prison guards can never be weak,” it is no surprise that many of these Corrections Officers suffer in silence and never try to get help. The stigma that surrounds their profession—one that calls for resilience and invincibility—is the same one that keeps their struggles a secret. They also fear that seeking help for mental illness could risk getting them decertified and losing their job.


Treatment Options for Corrections Officers

Researchers have discovered that the number of Corrections Officers who suffer from debilitating depression, anxiety, and PTSD is usually linked to substance abuse. Luckily, there treatment options available to Corrections Officers officers battling addiction.

If you or a loved one are a Corrections Officer and are considering professional treatment, our team at Green Mountain Treatment Center is available to discuss your options. Our drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities feature an extensive selection of therapies and program options that treat individuals who have often experienced unique and traumatic experiences throughout their careers. We offer specialized, tailored treatment for substance use disorders, and will also delve into the other presenting challenges, such as anxiety, PTSD, and depression, to help you achieve a better and more fulfilling life.

There are options out there for you, and we know for a fact that recovery is possible. Learn more about our Uniformed Services Program here or give us a call today.

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