Objective: Police and ambulance personnel are widely believed to have a high prevalence of excessive alcohol consumption. However, the empirical basis for this assumption is scant or nonexistent. We assessed the association of alcohol use with burnout and job stressors, with drinking to cope and neuroticism as two possible moderating factors in two occupations, the police and ambulance services.
Method: We undertook a comprehensive nationwide questionnaire survey of police (n = 2,372) and ambulance (n = 1,096) personnel in operational duty. The questionnaire encompassed the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the Job Stress Survey, and the Basic Character Inventory.
Results: With a modified AUDIT score of 6 or more, the prevalence for men was 17.7% (police personnel) versus 16.6% (ambulance personnel). The prevalence for women was 9.1% versus 7.4%, respectively. Personnel who were male, were younger, and had higher levels of neuroticism reported higher levels of alcohol-related problems. Drinking to cope was most strongly associated with higher levels of alcohol-related problems (standardized beta = .29, p < .001) and was found to moderate the effect of depersonalization (e.g., cynical and distant attitude toward one's work and the people with whom one works) and gender.
Conclusions: In general, the present study does not support the notion of a strong relationship between occupational stress and alcohol use in these emergency service occupations. However, drinking to cope may be a risk factor for alcohol-related problems, particularly among male personnel and those experiencing higher levels of depersonalization.