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Alcoholism and the Legal Profession

The legal profession is a time-honored field. These stewards of the law study for three grueling years to gain the knowledge and insight they need to help others navigate the ins and outs of the legal system. While this profession offers incredible advantages in status and financial stability, there is a darker side to the legal practice that takes a toll on many. Lawyers, judges and law students across the U.S. find themselves turning to alcohol.

We now know attorneys are a high-risk group for alcoholism. Thankfully, there is treatment tailored to those in the legal profession. These rehab programs address profession-specific factors that may have lead them to abuse alcohol. Help is available, so those in the field can get the help they need and continue helping others.

Statistics of Alcoholism Among Lawyers

Heavy drinking among lawyers is not a new concern. As far back as 1990, people began to see high alcoholism rates in the legal profession.

However, a 2016 study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine showed just how staggering the lawyer alcoholism statistics were. The research was based on results from nearly 13,000 lawyers and judged licensed in the United States. These respondents took the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, which is a tool used to identify alcohol use disorders. The results were astounding:

  • One in three attorneys and judges have a problem with alcohol
  • Over 40% of those who have a drinking problem say it started within the first 15 years of practicing law
  • Nearly 40% of women in the legal profession struggle with problematic drinking in comparison with 19% of women in the general public
  • Lawyers working for private law firms had the highest rates of alcohol abuse
  • There is a high rate of mental health issues among lawyers, including depression which affects 28% of respondents, anxiety affecting 19% and severe stress affecting 23%.

Why Lawyers Turn to Alcohol

The intensity of law school and the competitive nature of the legal profession are well-known. So, it’s no wonder individuals use alcohol as a coping device for many young legal professionals. The law draws hard-working and ambitious people, often prioritizing success and accomplishment over their personal well-being.

For many, alcohol abuse begins in law school. Alcohol-related events are a common occurrence, and young students struggle to keep their heads above water as they combat a variety of stressors including:

  • Excessive workloads
  • Intense competition
  • Perfectionism
  • Long hours of study
  • Enormous amounts of stress

Law students often begin to experience mental health issues during school, such as depression and anxiety. Once they graduate, these issues usually intensify, leading to increased levels of stress, unhappiness and imbalance. Coupled with unhealthy coping strategies, and those in the legal profession have a recipe for disaster when it comes to excessive drinking.

Other triggers which seem to contribute to lawyer substance abuse include:

  • A culture that embraces drinking as a means of socializing and networking
  • Perfectionism and overachieving leading to intense stress
  • Pressure for results from superiors
  • Difficult moral dilemmas
  • Financial concerns as well paying jobs are declining while the cost of a legal education is rising

Signs of Alcoholism in Lawyers

If you are a member of the legal profession and fear you may be developing a dependency or addiction to alcohol, there are a few warning signs to watch for:

  • Feeling a need or compulsion to drink
  • Drinking alone or in secret
  • Increased tolerance where you need more alcohol to feel its effects
  • Inability to limit how much you drink
  • Withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink, such as sweating, nausea or sweating
  • Blacking out or not remembering conversations or commitments
  • Irritability when your usual drinking time draws near
  • Keeping or hiding alcohol in unlikely places
  • Drinking or becoming intoxicated to feel good or normal
  • Gulping down drinks or ordering doubles
  • Creation of a drinking ritual
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that once brought you pleasure
  • Legal or relationship problems as a result of your drinking

If you have a loved one who is a lawyer, understanding the signs of alcoholism could potentially prevent their drinking problem from escalating. Some things to look for include:

  • Behavioral changes
  • Mood changes such as irritability or apathy
  • Changes in work quality or productivity
  • Isolation
  • Lingering smell of alcohol
  • Avoidance when you ask if there’s a problem

How to Get Help as an Alcoholic Lawyer or Law Student

The stigma of alcoholism isn’t like it used to be. Individuals and businesses are changing their attitudes toward this disease. Now, many organizations and law firms offer programs and options to help lawyers deal with their drinking problem. Some even offer paid time off to attend rehab or a company-funded addiction treatment. The first and most important step is to overcome your fears and ask for help.

At Gateway, we offer evidence-based alcohol addiction treatment for legal professionals struggling with this disease. We understand the specific stressors you encounter in this highly competitive field, and we create a program that specifically addresses your needs. You can win back your health and your career. Contact us today to find out how.

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