One in Three Attorneys Are Alcoholics
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Summary: A new study found that attorneys are more likely than surgeons to have problems with alcohol. 

If you look around your law office, one in three of your fellow lawyers are drunks. At least that’s according to a new study from the American Bar Association and the Hazeldon Betty Ford Foundation. The two groups published a paper called “The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys” in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. In their paper, they said that one in three attorneys have drinking problems, 28% suffer from depression, and 19% show symptoms of anxiety. The groups polled 13,000 licensed attorneys from 19 states.


Patrick R. Krill led the study that said lawyers are “problem drinkers.” As a seasoned lawyer, he wanted to address the growing concern about attorneys’ mental health.

“Over the past couple of years, increased public attention has been given to the significant levels of depression and suicidality in the legal profession,” Krill wrote in CNN. “And now, new research I spearheaded confirms what many in the legal profession have long known but struggled to publicly confront: A stunning percentage of practicing attorneys are problem drinkers.”

Krill is an attorney and also leads Hazelden’s substance-abuse treatment program for lawyers and judges.

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The numbers of alcoholic lawyers was 3-5 times higher than the general population, Krill said. Attorneys’ rate of alcoholism also beat out other professions, notably surgeons. A 2012 study found that 15% in that high stress job had serious problems with alcohol, which is still significantly less than lawyers’ addiction rate.

To further compare the severity of lawyers’ drinking problems, one could look at the national average of alcohol abuse. A National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism discovered that 6.8% of Americans aged 18 or older had issues with alcohol.

According to The New York Times, the study is the first time in 25 years that researchers have focused on drinking in the legal profession. In 1990, a study found that 18% of lawyers had drinking problems and mental health issues. Krill acknowledged that study, stating that both numbers show a problem.

“The law has always been a magnet for hard-working, self-reliant, and competitive people who often prioritize success and accomplishment far above personal health or wellbeing,” Krill said. “On top of that, stress, unhappiness and imbalance abound, while unhealthy coping skills such as excessive drinking are the cultural norm — malignant, learned behaviors passed down through the profession with the frequency of a dominant gene.”

The ABA and Betty Ford study found that young attorneys were more likely than senior ones to drink excessively. Forty-four percent of respondents said that their problem with alcohol began during their first 15 years of working, not during law school.

“This new research demonstrates how the pressures felt by many lawyers manifest in health risks,” Paulette Brown, the president of the American Bar Association, told the New York Times.

What do you think the legal profession can do to help attorneys with drinking problems? Let us know in the comments below. 


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