Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2022

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Mark A. Lumley

Second Advisor

Samuele Zilioli


American law enforcement is regarded as one of the most stressful occupations in the United States, involving repeated exposure to threatening or challenging encounters and the risk of severe injury and death. A voluminous literature has documented various psychophysiological implications of police stress, including morbidity and premature mortality. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic stressors during one’s formative years, such as abuse, neglect, and household violence and dysfunction. ACEs have been linked to increased mental and physical health risks, yet ACEs have not been studied in police officers. Given the increase in the level of stress experienced by today’s American police officer, this study developed and tested several models to understand how ACEs relate to adult health status in an urban police sample, focusing on alexithymia as an additional important factor. From a pool of Detroit Police Officers, 225 patrol officers completed self-report measures of ACEs, alexithymia, and six health status variables—subjective symptoms (i.e., somatic symptoms, depression, and perceived stress) and health behaviors (i.e., dietary practices, sleep, and alcohol consumption). Primary analyses assessed the relationships among ACEs, alexithymia, and health variables using hierarchical multiple regressions; exploratory analyses examined alexithymia as a moderator and mediator of the relationship between ACEs and health status. Primary findings align with a robust literature revealing that a greater number of ACEs and higher levels of alexithymia are related to more somatic symptoms, depression, perceived stress, and poorer sleep quality, with greater alexithymia also being associated with worse dietary practices and more alcohol consumption. Mediation models show childhood adversities associated with alexithymia, mediating ACEs’ effects on somatic symptoms, depression, perceived stress, and sleep. Alexithymia did not reliably moderate the relationship between ACEs and health status. This study demonstrates that ACEs and alexithymia are important because both are associated with the physical and psychological health of police officers. Alexithymia mediates the relationship between ACEs and health status, perhaps by altering psychophysiology, health behaviors, or social relationships, which negatively affect one’s health more broadly. Psychotherapeutic interventions focused on ameliorating alexithymia could be of utility, as reductions in alexithymia could reduce health-related symptoms. Future research would benefit from examining the efficacy of such interventions with police officers. Furthermore, studies should test the relationships among ACEs, alexithymia, and health variables in police officers alongside other coping mechanisms and use more robust measures, study designs, and analyses to assess police stress and health status.