Adrenaline junkie: life as a police officer


Chicago’s new mayor recently tossed the CPD under the bus, blaming them for all the violent crime in the city.  It sounds like the situation in NYC is the same.  So, what keeps these officers showing up at work each day and going out to do their job?  What keeps them risking their lives?

Part of it is they have car payments, mortgages, tuitions, and food bills.  Growing families need new clothes and it’s nice occasionally, to have a few extra dollars in your pocket.  The officer’s labor unions are blocked by state laws from taking any job actions like a strike or blue flu.  Additionally, most officers have a deep-seated moral code that doesn’t allow them to take a knee and let crime happen.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot Chicago PD
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently suggested that police are the cause of violent crime throughout the city. (Wikipedia/Chicago PD)


There is another thing that many of us never even realize.  We have a strong prey instinct.  Like a hunting dog that instinctively runs after a squirrel or any small animal that makes the mistake of dashing out in front of that dog. I’ve seen off duty officers instantly dash after purse-snatchers without giving it a thought. 

Another drive is most of us eventually get addicted to the adrenaline rush.  We all know it.  You get into a car chase and suddenly your heart beats faster, your senses are more alert, your breath faster, getting more oxygen into your system, increased strength, and decreased sense of pain.  You chase a man with a gun and you’re suddenly able to run faster, climb fences like a monkey, and crash through doors like they are made of balsa. You turn into every comic book super-hero. 

Adrenaline junkie: life as a police officer
(Adobe Stock)


Yeah, it’s dangerous, and lots of stupid things happen.  We aren’t comic book super-heroes.  Bones break and ankles sprain.  Even with your sense of superhuman strength, you can still lose the fight.  Your judgment is impaired and sometimes poor choices are made.  I remember an officer jumping from one rooftop to another suddenly realizing he was now stuck.  The bad guy was captured.  The 3-story building the officer was on showed no way down.  He slowly worked up the courage to make the jump back over the gangway he so easily cleared minutes before.  Now that six-foot span felt like a huge chasm to him.  He did it and vowed to never again do something that stupid. The entire time he had a huge grin on his face.  He was enjoying the adrenaline rush.

Running up a flight of stairs to a loud domestic disturbance pumps the adrenaline into your system. Racing lights and siren to a shots-fired call or burglary in progress kicks that adrenal gland into action. Walking up on a traffic stop on a dark street in a bad neighborhood gets the juices flowing.

(When the pursuit is going down… the adrenaline is flowing.)


It is an ancient hormone developed in our bodies to keep cavemen alive.  It helps keep us alive today and we love it.  Yeah, it’s a guilty pleasure we don’t often speak of except to others who have experienced it on a regular basis.  It probably isn’t the reason we do what we do but it is a nice little benefit.

Then there is the crash. After a big adrenaline dump, your body spent a lot of time in over-drive and now you pay the price.  Muscles ache, you’re shaky, and you are very tired. When I was married my wife knew I needed to talk about what happened and she spent many long nights listening when I need it.

Over time, persistent surges of adrenaline can damage your blood vessels, increase your blood pressure, and elevate your risk of heart attacks or stroke. It can also result in anxiety, weight gain, headaches, and insomnia.  In other words, it does damage if you don’t learn how to manage it. 

Of course, when you are old and retired like me and you meet old partners for a drink, you reminisce about those times where the adrenaline flowed, and you were a comic book superhero leaping from building to building. 

Stay safe.  Run low and zigzag,

Robert Weisskopf (ret. Lt. CPD)

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Adrenaline junkie: life as a police officer

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