US Lawyers At Risk for Substance Abuse Problems

Substance AbuseMany people like to have a drink after work or as a night cap. It can often help to relieve some stress or act as a bit of a grown-up reward after working a tough day. In high stress jobs, in fact, this might seem like a perfectly healthy and normal way to unwind. For one industry in particular, though, it appears this innocuous pastime might be developing into a dangerous habit.

A new joint study from the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation warns that roughly one in five licensed lawyers in the United States has a drinking problem. In addition, nearly one in three report experiencing symptoms of depression. As is typically the case with this particular statistic, male lawyers were found to be more at risk for drinking problems, as well as younger and new lawyers.

The study—which surveyed more than 12,000 lawyers—describes that 25% of male lawyers tested positive for dangerous drinking habits; and more than 30% of lawyers under the age of 30 had comparable scores on an alcohol use/abuse test. On the bright side, though, the study suggests that only about 12% of those in this workforce appear to have a full-blown drinking problem.   In addition, about 28% reported, at the very least, mild depression symptoms, and roughly 46% reported experiencing depression at least once during their legal careers.

Study co-author, Patrick Krill, is an attorney who also runs a substance abuse program for lawyers and judges. He says, “This long-overdue study clearly validates the widely held but empirically undersupported view that our profession faces truly significant challenges related to attorney well-being.”

He goes on to caution: “Any way you look at it, this data is very alarming, and paints the picture of an unsustainable professional culture that’s harming too many people.”

Perhaps more importantly, though, another study also suggests that doctors experience similar stress and, thus, are often subject to similar behaviors. While this external study does not necessarily link the medical profession with substance abuse like that of legal professions, the association with depression could indicate a similar risk for substance abuse.

This study, has been published in the February edition of the Journal of Addiction Medicine.