There are certain professions where alcoholism and substance abuse are seen at higher rates than others. One is law enforcement. The rate of alcoholism and substance abuse is thought to be significantly higher in this career field because of the stress, the difficult situations, strenuous work environment, and the potential for PTSD all leading to self-medication in the form of drugs and alcohol.
There’s another career area, however, where the alcoholism rate is significantly higher than the general population, and that’s among lawyers.
What Is The Alcoholism Rate For Lawyers?
While many previous studies had shown alcoholism and substance abuse rates to be higher among lawyers, this recent study put the numbers even higher than was seen in the past. In addition to the high rate of alcoholism and mental health for lawyers, younger lawyers were shown to be the most at-risk segment of the overall field.
Past research had seemed to conclude it was older lawyers who were more at risk for developing both substance abuse and mental health problems.
Alcoholism in the Legal Field
This study was conducted by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. It was expansive in scope and looked at almost 13,000 lawyers and judges who were licensed and employed in the U.S.
Respondents did the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, which is the World Health Organization uses as its primary screening tool for alcohol abuse disorders.
According to the research, nearly 21 percent of participating lawyers and judges had problems with alcohol use, however, when the questions were focused only on how often the participants drank, more than 36 percent were seen as problem drinkers.
Along with these findings of the alcoholism rate for lawyers, the study also showed that 28 percent of respondents said they’d experienced depression, 19 percent anxiety, and 23 percent said they’d experienced stress. These numbers were all also higher than previous findings in different studies.
Another way to look at the alarming results regarding the alcoholism rate for lawyers is that one in three practicing lawyers is a problem drinker.
This compares to the general population, which during a study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse was shown to have an alcoholism rate of 6.8 percent for adults over the age of 18.
Other findings included the fact that lawyers in firms had the highest rates of alcohol abuse, and junior associates had the highest reported problem drinking, followed by senior associates and junior partners.
Lawyers with 10 or fewer years’ experience had significantly higher alcoholism rates than their more senior colleagues, and nearly 29 percent of participating lawyers in their first ten years of practicing could be said to have a drinking problem. After that, for lawyers working in their second decade, the rate went to 21 percent.
There is some belief that the drinking problems started in law school, but at the same time, 44 percent of lawyers who participated in the study said their problematic drinking habits started in their initial 15 years of being in practice. This indicates that starting a legal career can be correlated with a high likelihood of developing a drinking problem.
Why Is the Alcoholism Rate for Lawyers So High?
While the study cited above didn’t delve into reasons the alcoholism rate for lawyers is so high, there are some theories.
One of the biggest is that lawyers, particularly when they work in a firm, are part of a culture that embraces drinking and socializing, even making it part of work with client meetings. It’s not uncommon for people in the legal profession to get together after hours for events that involve alcohol, or even drink at daytime events.
Also, many law students begin to experience mental health issues during school, such as depression and anxiety, primarily because of how rigorous it is and also competitive. There is often a link between mental health disorders and alcoholism, and law students may begin self-medicating during the stressful situations they face in school, and that then carries over or even worsens during their initial years in practice.
Also, people who strive for perfection or are overachievers are often drawn to careers in law, so they may be predispositioned to using alcohol as a way to ease the stress and pressure they feel. Often people in the legal field put accomplishment and being successful over their own health and wellness, so they may rely on unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress, such as alcohol.
When it comes to young lawyers in particular, along with culture and competition, there’s also a theory that while the number of well-paying jobs is on the decline, the cost of a legal education is on the rise. Young lawyers often graduate with more than $100,000 in debt, putting even more pressure on an already stressful profession.
Many law firms and organizations are trying to put in place programs and options that can help lawyers who may deal with problem drinking, but that’s not necessarily new, and still the alcoholism rate for lawyers seems to be on the rise, leaving many to wonder what the solution to this troubling trend is.