Alcoholism in lawyers seems to be more common than in the general population, with around one-fifth of lawyers demonstrating hazardous levels of drinking.

There are certain professions where alcoholism and substance abuse are seen at higher rates than others. This doesn’t mean that the profession itself causes addiction, but rather that the rates of addiction in this profession may be higher when compared to other professions or people in the general population.

One profession in which alcoholism or alcohol use disorders are especially common is the legal profession. More specifically, lawyers are at increased risk of developing problems with alcohol when compared to other professionals.

Article at a Glance:

  • Statistics show that drinking is more common among lawyers than in the general population.
  • About one-fifth of lawyers demonstrate signs of hazardous drinking, which can include alcohol abuse and dependence.
  • Depression, anxiety and high stress are common among lawyers, which may contribute to alcohol abuse in this profession.

What Is the Alcoholism Rate for Lawyers?

It is difficult to determine the exact alcoholism rate for lawyers, but recent studies do provide an estimate. For example, a 2016 study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine surveyed upwards of 12,000 American lawyers and found that 20.6% of them, or right around one-fifth, engaged in drinking at a hazardous level. Another noteworthy finding in this study: 84.1% of the attorneys had consumed alcohol in the prior year, compared to 69.5% of adults in the general population.

Lawyers & Alcoholism

This study mentioned above was sponsored by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs. It was the first study of its kind to assess substance abuse and behavioral health concerns among lawyers at the national level.

Study participants completed the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), which the World Health Organization uses as its primary screening tool for alcohol use disorders. Scoring at or above a cut-off score of eight indicates hazardous drinking, including possible alcohol abuse or dependence.

According to the research, nearly 21% of participating lawyers and judges had problems with alcohol use; however, when the questions were focused only on how often and how much the participants drank, 36.4% were seen as hazardous drinkers. This means one in three practicing lawyers is a problem drinker when considering the frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption. This rate is high compared to the general population, in which only 5.3% of people aged 12 and up have an alcohol use disorder in 2019.

Keep in mind that a score in the hazardous drinking range on the AUDIT does not necessarily mean that someone has an alcohol use disorder. Still, given the high prevalence of hazardous drinking among lawyers, we can expect that their rates of alcoholism are higher than in the general population. Other findings included:

Keep in mind that a score in the hazardous drinking range on the AUDIT does not necessarily always mean that someone has an alcohol use disorder, but given the high prevalence of hazardous drinking among lawyers, we can expect that their rates of alcoholism are higher than in the general population. Other findings included:

  • Lawyers in private firms had the highest rates of hazardous drinking (23.4%).
  • Junior associates had the highest reported problem drinking (31.1%), followed by senior associates (26.1%) and junior partners (23.6%). 
  • 28.1% of participating lawyers in their first ten years of practice demonstrated signs of a drinking problem, compared to 19.2% of lawyers in their second decade of practice.

Some believe that the drinking problems might begin in law school, but 44% 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 an increased chance of developing hazardous drinking habits.

Why Is the Alcoholism Rate for Lawyers So High?

Some people may theorize that alcohol abuse occurs in lawyers because of a culture that promotes drinking to socialize and connect with clients. While it is difficult to find data supporting this theory, what is easier to defend is the theory that stress and mental health issues can contribute to addiction in lawyers.

In the study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, 28% of lawyers had signs of depression, 19% had anxiety and 23% had high-stress levels. Furthermore, study results showed that these mental health concerns were more common among lawyers who demonstrated hazardous drinking levels, suggesting that the two may go hand-in-hand. Lawyers, especially those who are new to the stresses of the job, may turn to alcohol as a way to cope with long hours, contentious court battles and demands from clients.

Lawyers & Substance Abuse

While alcohol abuse among lawyers is problematic, it is also important to address substance abuse in this population. The survey in the Journal of Addiction Medicine did not just analyze drinking behaviors among lawyers; it also inquired about the use of other substances, including illegal drugs. Findings revealed that within the previous year:

  • 15.7% of lawyers had used sedatives 
  • 10.2% had used marijuana 
  • 5.6% percent had used opioid drugs
  • 4.8% had used stimulants

For some lawyers, substance abuse is not just an occasional occurrence. Among those who had used stimulants in the previous year, nearly three-fourths said that they used the drugs weekly.

The Cost of Addiction in the Workplace

The rates of substance abuse, especially alcoholism, among lawyers are troubling, especially given the negative effects of substance abuse on the workplace. Addiction can contribute to serious losses for an employer, including financial losses due to missed days of work and costs associated with workplace accidents.

study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine analyzed the costs associated with employing workers with substance use disorders. It concluded that those with addictions missed almost 50% more workdays than their peers without addictions. Those who are in treatment, on the other hand, miss the least work. In addition, those with substance use disorders have higher rates of job turnover and have more visits to the emergency department each year, passing additional costs on to their employers.

The costs associated with providing healthcare to employees with addictions can be especially high. For example, the study found that the typical worker without an addiction costs their employer $1,729 per year in healthcare costs, compared to $2,197 for those with addictions. The extra costs associated with missed workdays depend upon the industry, but in the professional, management, and administration industry, including lawyers, it costs an extra $2,604 per year to employ someone with a substance use disorder based upon missed workdays alone.

What’s Next?

Given the staggering costs associated with employing workers with addictions, many companies are taking steps to prevent some of the consequences of workplace addiction. For instance, prevention programs and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are becoming increasingly common as a means of managing the consequences associated with employee drug and alcohol use.

If you want to be prepared to address addiction in your workplace, Advanced Recovery Systems is here to help. We are happy to provide a free EAP assessment, in addition to assisting you with writing workplace policies pertaining to addiction and conducting new-hire training. Reach out to us today if you’re interested in learning more about how we can help you combat the negative effects of addiction in the workplace.

See More: Am I an Alcoholic? / What Are Your Options If You Need Help?

Melissa Carmona
Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
Jenni Jacobsen
Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs. “Study on lawyer impairment.” June 18, 2019. Accessed August 9, 2021.

Goplerud, Eric, Hodge, Sarah, and Benham, Tess. “A Substance Use Cost Calculator for US E[…]in Medication Misuse.” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, November 2017. Accessed August 9, 2021.

Krill, Patrick R., Johnson, Ryan, and Albert, Linda. “The prevalence of substance use and othe[…] American attorneys.” Journal of Addiction Medicine, February 2016. Accessed August 9, 2021.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Use in the United States.” June 2021. Accessed August 9, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.