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Substance Use and Addiction Among Corrections Officers

Table of Contents

Corrections Officers: Occupational Stress

Corrections Officers in the United States have a very difficult job that is both physically and mentally taxing. They are tasked with overseeing the exceedingly large population of incarcerated prisoners (there are 2.5 million prisoners currently), and often witness traumatizing situations that can result in substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and suicide. A recent study found that the average life expectancy of a Corrections Officer is 59 years, compared to the national average of 75. This is largely due to occupational stress, hypertension, physical illnesses, and substance abuse.

The difficulties Corrections Officers face on a daily basis is quite harrowing. It includes breaking up riots, physical fights, enforcing prison rules, and encouraging inmates to actively participate in their rehabilitation. This requires the mental wherewithal to keep an eye on things, to be openly disliked, to be harassed, and more. COs have to be in top physical condition so they are able to handle the physical aspect of the job, and also must be trained with firearms, non-lethal weapons, and the employment of hand-to-hand combat if necessary.

There are currently 500,000 men and women serving as correctional officers across the country, but with the prison populations increasing each year, prisons are often understaffed and therefore the Officers are overworked. To keep constantly vigilant for the safety of themselves, their co-officers, and the inmates takes a toll. A Corrections Officer has to have a keen eye for signs of discourse or trouble among the inmates, but they also must be sources of support or safety for them. It is a constant balancing act.

With the above statistics in mind, it is not difficult to imagine that some may turn to substances to cope with the stresses of the job. This is one of the reasons the rate of substance use disorder and addiction for Corrections Officers is significantly higher than the general public.


Risk Factors for Corrections Officers

While working in a prison, Corrections Officers officers are susceptible to incurring 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 from violent events occurring at work
  • Hypertension
  • Ulcers
  • Heart attacks
  • Insomnia
  • Increased heart rate, headaches, and tremors

Aside from physical injuries, they are also vulnerable to mental illness because of the environment in American prisons. They can often become aggressive and withdrawn after spending a certain amount of time on the job, and often assume a catatonic, “robotic, emotionless” facade to protect themselves. They also have been known to turn to drinking or drugs to alleviate the mental strain they face during each shift.

Some quick statistics to consider: 34% of Corrections Officers meet the criteria for PTSD, while they are two times more likely to take their own lives compared to police officers or the general public. With the unofficial motto of COs across America being, “Prison guards can never be weak,” it is no surprise that many of these men and women suffer silently and never get the help they need. The stigma that surrounds their profession—touting strength and invincibility—is the same one that keeps their disorders unheard and unseen. They also worry that admitting to any of the aforementioned afflictions could get them decertified.


Treatment Options for Corrections Officers

Researchers have discovered that the profound number of Corrections Officers who suffer from debilitating depression, anxiety, and PTSD is often linked to substance abuse. Luckily, there are many treatment options available for individuals battling addiction.

If you or a loved one are a Corrections Officer and are considering professional treatment, our team at Granite Recovery Centers 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. Please give us a call today.