The Outsized Role of Alcohol in the Legal Industry

Law firms and organizations within the legal industry have begun to treat problem drinking as the serious issue it is. Still, alcohol continues to have a large impact on lawyers and legal professionals. This is true across age, gender identification and job role. Lawyers and legal staff have higher rates of alcohol consumption and substance use disorder than the general population, whether in big law or a solo practitioner.

While plenty of speculation exists as to the reason, the bottom line is that problem drinking is a real concern. We cannot be healthy, happy, or our best professionally if alcohol plays too large of a role in our lives.

Problem Drinking and Alcohol Dependency Statistics Among Lawyers

Lawyers, students and law firms are typically reluctant to disclose substance abuse and problem drinking. Enough information is available, however, to make it clear that alcohol plays an outsized role in the lives of many attorneys:

These are staggering numbers. Even if alcohol does not impact your clients, reputation, or productivity, it can have negative health consequences. Alcohol causes one in 10 working-age deaths in the U.S.

What Law Firms Are Doing About Excessive Alcohol Consumption

The good news is that many law firms have taken the American Bar Association's call to address problem drinking to heart. Most top global firms have comprehensive wellness initiatives, including for issues related to substance abuse. And the trend is to de-emphasize alcohol at firm events, offering alternatives to alcoholic drinks.

While mental health is still a stigmatized issue, it is much less so than it used to be. The American Bar Association, state bars, and lawyer assistance groups in all states are ready to help attorneys worried about their alcohol consumption.

Moreover, substance use disorder is finally widely recognized as the disease it is. The consensus among medical professionals is that alcoholism is a disease – and one that can be treated successfully.

While lawyers are often reluctant to get help, the fact is that law firms have become much more supportive of attorney wellness. Even so, if you are concerned about your reputation or career, there are plenty of confidential sources to turn to for help, from Alcoholics Anonymous to confidential outpatient clinics that may help your need for alcohol.

Help And Resources

If you are trying to reduce drinking, most health professionals recommend trying to find alternative healthy ways to cope with stress or depression. Try mediation, exercise, therapy, a new hobby, or all of the above. If you find yourself unable to limit your alcohol intake, which is quite common, it is not because of a lack of willpower. You should discuss possible treatment with a healthcare professional, who may suggest counseling, an outpatient program, a residential treatment program, or detox.

Other resources include:

*This number is also sometimes reported as one in five. These numbers come from the 2016 Hazelden/ABA study's alcohol screening test. In a brief screen (the Audit-C), 36% self-reported problem drinking. For the respondents who completed all 10 questions (of whom there were fewer) 20% reported problem drinking.

Think you might be drinking too much? Take a Self-Assessment.

Below is the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. The World Health Organization developed this test to screen for problem drinking. It is provided here to download for potential self-assessment. While it has proven both valid and reliable, it is not a substitute for a diagnosis by a mental health professional.

AUDIT

Score Results:

0 to 7 points: Low risk
8 to 15 points: Medium risk
16 to 19 points: High risk
20 to 40 points: Substance use disorder likely