‘It’s a crutch’: A qualitative exploration of UK police employees’ experiences of at-risk alcohol consumption or abstinence

Irizar, Patricia; Jackson, Leanne; Gage, Suzanne H; Bell, Sean; Piper, Richard; Fallon, Victoria and Goodwin, Laura (2023). ‘It’s a crutch’: A qualitative exploration of UK police employees’ experiences of at-risk alcohol consumption or abstinence. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 17, article no. paac052.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/police/paac052

Abstract

One-third of UK police employees drink to at-risk levels, with both at-risk drinking and abstinence being associated with poor mental health. This research aimed to qualitatively explore police employees’ experiences of at-risk alcohol use or abstinence, their motivations for drinking/abstaining, and the organizational culture of drinking. Semi-structured telephone interviews with 16 UK serving police employees (12 at-risk drinkers, four abstainers) were conducted and analysed using thematic analysis. Five themes were identified. Participants described the ‘organizational culture of drinking and changes over time’, outlining a cultural shift. Motivations for drinking were reflected across two themes, ‘alcohol as a coping mechanism’ and ‘alcohol and socializing’, with an additional theme representing ‘motivations for abstinence/cutting down’. The final theme highlighted the ‘contrasting perceptions of available support’. Though the drinking culture is no longer as prominent, using alcohol socially and to cope, is normalized. The implications and recommendations for practice are outlined.

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