A recent in-depth study is showing high levels of alcohol abuse, depression, and anxiety among U.S. Lawyers and attorneys targets concerns about problem drinking in the high-stress legal profession. Office culture and the thought of ruining their career are some of the factors leading to these professionals in not seeking help.
- More than 21% of licensed, employed attorneys in the U.S. consume alcohol at levels consistent with problem drinking.
- More than 28% deal with Depression.
- More than 19% reported suffering with anxiety.
- Most of the attorneys only seek help when their firms have mandated they get treatment
Dan Kotin, vice president of the Chicago Bar Association, labeled the findings “very disturbing.” “Frankly, the number 21 percent is alarming because that suggests that 1 out of every 5 of us is suffering (from alcohol abuse),” said Kotin. “Despite the fact that it is alarming, it shouldn’t be shocking.”
How the Study Came About
Patrick Krill, of the Betty Ford Foundation first approached the American Bar Association about doing the study with goals to get reliable statistics on the issue.
“This is a mainstream problem in the legal profession,” said Krill, director of the Legal Professionals Program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, and a lawyer himself. “There needs to be a systemic response.” “I haven’t seen a professional population out there with a higher level of problem drinking,” said Krill.
It is the first major study in 25 years targeting substance abuse among lawyers, who have a known reputation to posses very high-stress workloads.
- Based on a survey from 12,825 United States attorney assesing their alcohol use, symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety.
- The survey asked how much and how often someone drinks, revealed that 36 percent of respondents had results consistent with hazardous drinking or possible alcohol abuse or dependence. That compares to 15 percent of physicians, a group whose substance use has been studied far more extensively, the study says.
- 10 questions that include subjective queries about whether drinking is affecting respondents’ lives. Based on that measure, 21 percent of attorneys are problem drinkers.
Attorneys in the first 10 years of their careers have the highest signs of problem drinking.
One male Lawyer, who was quoted anonymously, said he started drinking before law school but once he became more established it became a major part of his identity, as it was part of his firm’s identity and his industry.
“There was a significant amount of pressure early on to fit in, and usually that is done through cocktails,” he said. From entertaining clients to unwinding after a long day at work, there usually is a drink in hand, he said. Drinking led to poor work performance, which led to depression, lying and anxiety.
Programs Being Put in Place
To Chelsy Castro, clinical case and program manager at the Illinois Lawyers’ Assistance Program, the data confirm what she sees every day. Though the drugs lawyers use to cope with stress have changed over the years, alcohol abuse has been consistent for a long time, she said.
The Lawyers’ Assistance Program, a nonprofit that provides free and confidential mental health and addiction services for lawyers, judges and law students, is working closely with local law schools and some law firms to bring the issue around seeking help, Castro said.
The organization, which was founded by the Chicago and Illinois bar associations helps about 300 people a year through its support groups and counseling services, a sliver of the 90,000 attorneys in Chicago. Among the steps institutions can take are mandatory courses in law school on the importance of personal well-being. Also a call to implement comprehensive mentoring programs for young lawyers that address the challenges of debt, kids and other personal struggles to help deter substance abuse.
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