Alcoholism Rates Among Lawyers

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Attorneys have a highly stressful occupation, often accompanied by long hours, crippling student loans, and potential risks associated with disgruntled former clients or prosecuted defendants. These pressures may contribute to the high rates of drug and alcohol misuse among legal professionals. Anxiety and depression related to job stress are considered significant factors among lawyers who engage in substance use. 

Because no one is immune to addiction, individuals in any profession can engage in substance abuse and eventually develop a dependence long before they realize it. At Guardian Recovery, we offer individualized treatment plans featuring various levels of care. We recognize the stress associated with high-pressure careers, and we have responded by developing comprehensive treatment programs to address all aspects of drug and alcohol addiction for working professionals. Contact us today and learn how we can help.

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What Is the Alcoholism Rate for Lawyers? 

Regarding alcoholism, there appears to be a significant connection between career choices and drinking habits. Unfortunately, certain professions seem to have higher percentages of workers who struggle with alcohol abuse. A study by the American Bar Association (ABA) revealed that lawyers have a higher rate of alcohol use compared to the general population. 

The study’s conclusions were based on the self-reports of approximately 12,800 lawyers, who were asked to describe their alcohol use and mental health. AUDIT screening results revealed that an estimated 21% of respondents screened positive for “hazardous, harmful, and potentially alcohol-dependent drinking.” To compare, less than 12% of a “highly-educated workforce” screened positive in the sample. 

Of the total participants, 11,489 were given another screening tool, AUDIT-C, which identifies heavy drinking patterns. More than 36% of respondents (40% of women and 34% of men) bore results consistent with dangerous drinking or possibly alcohol misuse or dependence. This finding implies that approximately 1 in 3 practicing lawyers is a problem drinker considering the severity of their alcohol misuse.

Surveyed lawyers in their first ten years of practice faced the highest risk of experiencing a drinking problem, with 29% reporting problematic drinking patterns. And most responding attorneys didn’t start drinking excessively until they began practicing law. 

Of lesser risk were attorneys who had been practicing for 11-20 years (21%), which decreased gradually from 21 years on. Regarding positions within a law firm, junior associates had the highest rates of problematic use, and senior partners had the lowest.

The study concluded that the lawyers experienced significant mental health distress and engaged in “problematic drinking that is hazardous, harmful, or otherwise consistent with alcohol use disorders at a higher rate than other professional populations.” 

Factors Contributing to High Alcoholism Rates

Continuous problem drinking is not solely the result of alcohol’s addictive potential or a lack of willpower. Instead, various factors contribute to an individual’s propensity to misuse alcohol. For example, the ABA study also found that mental health issues were prevalent among respondents, including depression (28%), stress (23%), and anxiety (19%).

Internal & External Factors Include:

  • Genetics.
  • Mental health conditions.
  • Personality.
  • Drinking history.
  • Social standards.
  • Family substance use history.
  • Environment.
  • Religion.
  • Social/cultural norms.

The number of factors contributing to alcohol dependence makes it nearly impossible to accurately predict whether any individual will develop alcoholism. While it is an individual’s choice to start drinking, no single factor will determine whether or not an individual develops an alcohol use disorder.

Other common factors contributing to alcoholism among lawyers include the following:

Occupational Factors

People in certain occupations, including law, are more susceptible to heavy drinking than others, including high-risk and stressful professions. For example, mining industry employees experienced the highest rate of heavy past-month alcohol use (17.5%), and construction workers were second (16.5%). 

The number of hours a person works is also a significant factor. Research has suggested people working more than 50 hours weekly are much more likely to begin using alcohol excessively than those who work fewer hours.

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Education and Law School Factors

Contrary to what one might assume, highly educated individuals are more likely to drink. College drinking is normalized and often perceived as essential to the higher education experience. The culture and environment can influence those who enter college with well-established drinking habits, and their alcohol consumption may increase and become more problematic.

One national survey revealed more than half of full-time college students ages 18-22 consumed alcohol in the last 30 days, and approximately one-third engaged in binge drinking. 

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), up to 80% of U.S. college graduates consume alcohol, compared to 52% of individuals without a college education. Nearly half report binge drinking in the past two weeks. 

Stresses Directly Related to Law School

Some students may be unprepared for the stress and rigorous studying required in law school. Depression and anxiety are relatively common among law students, and these issues may fuel a need for drug or alcohol misuse as a dysfunctional coping mechanism. Over time, self-medication can develop into addiction, especially when a person becomes active in their occupation. The 2016 Survey of Law Student Well-Being highlights the experiences of law students as they pertain to substance use. 

Among Surveyed Law Students:

  • 25% were at risk for alcoholism.
  • 37% reported mild-severe anxiety.
  • 17% experienced depression.
  • 6% reported having past-year suicidal thoughts.

Massive student loans also contribute to the stress that law students face. Many attorneys fresh out of law school need time to establish a lucrative career and make the money required to cover their debt.

Perfectionism Among Attorneys

It is common for those drawn to the law profession to struggle with perfectionism and a propensity towards overachieving, which can result in the use of drugs or alcohol to deal with self-imposed pressure. These individuals often hold their dedication to a very high standard, working long hours and taking on an excessive workload. When people in the legal field prioritize success over health and well-being, they might consider unhealthy coping mechanisms a necessary part of their job.

A Drinking Culture

The culture associated with lawyers, especially those working in a firm, seems to endorse social drinking as part of everyday life. For example, meetings with clients and work social events are common and frequently involve alcohol consumption.

Lawyers & Drug Abuse

Heavy drinking is not the only substance abuse issue experienced by lawyers. Overworked attorneys can suffer from sleep deficiencies, making it more challenging to manage their workload. Drugs with stimulating properties are prevalent in the legal field, with many obtained illicitly, such as cocaine. Also, prescription medications, including Adderall and Vyvanse and their generic counterparts, are relatively easy to acquire and can be affordable for successful attorneys.

According to the ABA study, of participants who used a specific drug class in the past year, 75% reported weekly use of stimulants. In addition, more than half had used sedatives, 46.8% used tobacco, 31% used marijuana, and 22% used painkillers. 

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The stigma associated with alcoholism isn’t as pervasive as it once was. As a result, individuals and businesses have gradually changed their attitudes toward this insidious health disorder. Many organizations and law firms now provide options to help lawyers deal with their drinking problems. Some even offer paid time off for inpatient addiction treatment, which the company might partially or wholly fund. If these are not options, your personal health insurance might provide coverage.

At Guardian Recovery, we offer private pay and self-pay options. We encourage you to contact us today to speak to an experienced Treatment Advisor for a free, no obligation insurance benefit check. Our intake process is brief and straightforward, and we will pass your information on to our treatment team. 

Moving forward, they will help you determine your appropriate care level and develop a customized treatment plan. As soon as you are ready, you can begin your recovery journey and develop the coping mechanisms you need to live free from drug and alcohol dependence.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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