Alcohol is a drug that negatively affects large swaths of the American population; this is as true for attorneys and legal professionals as for everyone else. Even highly capable, successful attorneys who continue to represent clients well can end up leaning too heavily on alcohol. This is true across age, gender identification and job role. While the days of emphasizing alcohol at firm events has been reduced, lawyers and legal staff still have higher rates of alcohol consumption than the general population, whether in big law or a solo practitioner. Fortunately, law firms and organizations within the legal industry have begun to treat problem drinking as the serious medical issue it is.
While plenty of speculation exists as to the reason many attorneys are at risk of substance use disorder, 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. The reason is obvious; lawyers must appear capable and above reproach at all times. And even though substance use disorder is a long-recognized medical condition, enough stigma remains that most attorneys and legal professionals first attempt to hide their disease before seeking help.
Enough information is available, however, to make it clear that alcohol use can play too large a role in the lives of many attorneys:
- One in three lawyers display problematic drinking behavior*
- Nearly 90% of big law firms agree or strongly agree that alcohol abuse occurs at their firms
- One in four law students exhibit problem drinking
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. across all industries.
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:
- Halzenden Betty Ford (for attorneys, judges and other legal professionals)
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- SMART recovery (a 12-step alternative)
- Lawyer Assistance Groups by State
*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.
|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|