The legal profession brings many rewards such as social status, a good income, and professional satisfaction. It is also infamous for its long working hours, pressured environment, and demanding workload.
It may not come as a surprise then that practicing law also increases one’s chances of developing a problem with alcohol.
Statistics tell the story
A national survey published in The Journal of Addiction Medicine revealed that between 21% and 36% of currently employed attorneys drink at levels that qualify for a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder.
These numbers are alarming, as they are roughly 3-5 times higher than current estimates for significant alcohol problems in the general population.
For many lawyers, heavy drinking first began in law school, but for a far greater number — 44% — it began during their first decade or so of practice. This led researchers to conclude that “being in the early stages of one’s legal career is strongly associated with a high risk of developing an alcohol use disorder”.
In addition to the stress that comes with the job, young lawyers are also burdened with enormous student debt that often exceeds $100,000. They are then required to find and negotiate an entry-level position with prospects of advancement. The competition is fierce, the hours are long, and the pressure intense. These pressures can have a significant impact on both physical and mental health. A recent study found that 28% of practicing attorneys suffer from depression and 19% struggle with symptoms of anxiety.
Beyond the statistics
It is easy to see why many in the law profession might drink too much. Lawyers– especially young attorneys– endure a demanding work schedule that leaves little time for relaxation or connecting with family and friends. With little opportunity for self-care or reflection, they feel an overwhelming need to de-stress with alcohol at the end of a long day.
In an email to the Washington Post, former lawyer Patrick Krill writes that lawyers tend to:
“prioritize success and accomplishment over things like balance, personal well-being, health, etc. You put them through a training (law school) where they are taught to work harder, play harder, and assume the role of a tough, capable and aggressive professional without personal weaknesses or deficiencies.”
A professional culture of drinking
The popular TV show Mad Men spotlights a bit of the drinking culture in the New York City corporate scene of the 1960s, and it seems that not too much has changed since then as far as drinking is concerned.
In the law profession, alcohol flows freely at meetings with clients, co-workers, and colleagues as well as during happy hours or late-night meet-ups friends where drinking is used to relax, forget about the day, and have a good time.
An obstacle to seeking help
Lawyers who realize that their drinking has gotten a bit out of hand may be hesitant to seek professional help for fear of sullying their professional reputation and of suffering negative judgment from competitive colleagues or opposition, should they find out. Understandably, privacy and confidentiality are paramount concerns. Rather than go to a public program or AA meetings, lawyers and other professionals are generally more comfortable with the idea of seeking help from a private specialist, such as an addiction psychologist, who offers individualized treatment in a private office setting.
Get help today
Dr. Arnold Washton, a widely recognized addiction psychologist and book author, provides private, totally confidential, individually-tailored treatment for alcohol and substance problems for attorneys, physicians, and other high-functioning men and women. To schedule your private consultation with Dr. Arnold Washton reach out to him confidentially today. Feel free to give him a call or fill out the contact form.