Addicted attorneys

ABA: 15% - 20% of lawyers suffer from alcohol or substance abuse


CENTER CITY, Minn. – Is your high stress job driving you to drink? If so, you're not alone, especially if you're a lawyer.

The American Bar Association estimates that 15 to 20 percent of all lawyers in the U.S. suffer from alcohol or substance abuse, and stress is a major contributing factor. However, there is a treatment program designed specifically for the legal profession.

"I was drinking a bottle of wine every night," said Jessica Rugani, a prosecuting attorney.

Rugani is a recovering alcoholic.

"It was an escape.  It was something to enjoy and savor. It really just let me forget my problems," she said.

Rugani prosecuted people for DWI and drug cases. So, admitting she had a drinking problem was humbling.

"I realized that the practice of law was becoming difficult for me because of my drinking," she explained.

Rugani entered a special rehab program designed specifically for legal professionals. It's at Hazelden, a leading private, not-for-profit, alcohol and drug addiction treatment center.

"Lawyers are twice as addicted as the regular population," said Link Christin, Director, Hazelden Legal Professionals Program.

Studies show 18 percent of attorneys who practiced law for two to 20 years have a drinking problem. That number increased to 25 percent for attorneys who practiced more than 25 years.

"It is very much part of the attorney culture," Christin said.

Christin is the director of the legal professionals program. He believes social influences, heavy workloads, and the stress of the job leads lawyers to addiction, but often—with treatment—they summon the motivation to sober up.

"Once you get sober you have extra hours. You have extra energy. You're thinking better," Christin explained.

That's a win-win for the lawyers and the clients they represent.

You can take a free online screening to help you determine if you have an addiction problem at www.hazelden.org.

Additional Information:

ATTORNEYS AND ADDICTION:  Research indicates that attorneys are at a higher risk to develop substance abuse problems.  A study published in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry reported that the rate of problem drinking for attorneys was 18 percent compared to 10 percent in the general population.  Evidence shows that legal professionals experience problems with substance abuse early in their careers and these problems worsen over time.  One study found that eight percent of prelaw students, 15 percent of first-year law students, 24 percent of third-year law students, and 26 percent of alumni reported concern with alcohol problems.  Furthermore, 18 percent of attorneys who practiced for two to twenty years reported drinking problems and this increased to 25 percent for attorneys who practiced for over 20 years.  What's more, the longer attorneys with addiction problems remain untreated the more likely they are to be defendants in malpractice suits.  For example, out of 100 attorneys that entered the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability attorney assistance program, 60 percent had a malpractice suit filed against them while suffering from substance abuse.  (Source: www.hazelden.org)

WHY ATTORNEYS ARE AT A HIGHER RISK:  One possibility is that the profession contains fundamental characteristics that may facilitate the development of addiction.  These characteristics can include social influences within the work environment, heavy workloads, stress attributed to working with clients, and co-occurring psychological illnesses that precede substance abuse problems.  Research shows that cultures that accept alcohol use are more likely to contain employees that are prone to alcohol problems.  Reports show that the work culture of many law offices is highly permissive of drinking.  In some practices, it is common for attorneys to drink with clients or coworkers during work hours.  In a sample of 559 attorneys, 66 percent reported social drinking connected to work.  (Source: www.hazelden.org)

STRESS:  Stress is known to be one of the most important predictors of substance abuse.  The addiction research indicates that attorneys and law students have excessive levels of stress.  Some theorists have mentioned that the high number of work hours, unpredictable trials, and the heavy workloads contribute to their stress. They may also have an extraordinary amount of pressure to win cases.  For example, losing a case could be highly publicized and could result in death or imprisonment of a client.  (Source: www.hazelden.org)