Though statistics are not abundant about lawyers and substance abuse, the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation released a report in 2016 about substance abuse among licensed, practicing attorneys in 19 states.
Around 21 percent of lawyers qualified as “problem drinkers” according to the report. Of the more than 12,000 lawyers surveyed, only 3,419 would even answer questions about drug use. Of those who did, 5.6 percent said they used cocaine and other stimulants, another 5.6 percent admitted to using opioids, 10.2 percent said they used marijuana and hashish, and approximately 16 percent said they used sedatives.
Though around 65 percent of the general adult population of America consumes alcohol, 85 percent of lawyers said they used alcohol in the preceding year. Just over 20 percent of lawyers felt “intermediate” levels of concern about their substance use, and 3 percent reported having severe concerns about it.
Lawyers Admit More Readily to Alcohol Abuse Than Drug Abuse
The fact that 75 percent of lawyers surveyed skipped over questions about illicit drug use does not mean they do not use them. The fact is, drinking alcohol is legal for adults, but using illicit drugs and using prescription drugs inappropriately is not. A practicing attorney can admit to drinking without having to deal with the cognitive dissonance of engaging in illegal behavior while working in the American legal system.
Opioids, Benzos, and Cocaine: Drugs of Choice Among Lawyers
Being an attorney is not a laid-back profession. Lawyers are expected to be “on” and ready to act on behalf of their clients, many of whom spend lots of money for legal representation. As a result, popular drugs among lawyers include those that can be used to force moods and energy, such as opioids, benzodiazepines, and cocaine. Among lawyers with drinking problems, cocaine use is a not-insignificant way of coping with impairment caused by alcohol.
The American Bar Association Responds
The American Bar Association realizes that alcohol and drug use are just as prevalent in legal professionals as they are in the general population. Attorneys that work in the criminal court system may have first-hand knowledge of the lack of effect that criminal punishment has on substance use.
As an organization, the American Bar Association recently released a resolution expressing concern about mental health problems and substance abuse among lawyers and showing support for what actually works in addressing the problem, namely, substance abuse treatment. The resolution also addresses the impact of mental illness on lawyers with substance abuse disorders. A 2014 study of law students found that 25 percent reported experiencing anxiety, and 18 percent had been diagnosed with depression. Addressing co-occurring mental illness is a critical component of any effective substance abuse treatment plan.
A Possible Silver Lining?
The fact that lawyers, who are faced with prosecuting and defending people who are in the court system because of substance abuse, regularly experience substance abuse for themselves may ultimately have an effect on the longstanding American approach of punishing drug addicts. For one thing, lawyers see for themselves how little effect incarceration has on drug abuse. As lawyers build their careers having experience with substance abuse in the criminal court system, they may bring to the judicial bench and elected positions wisdom that recognizes substance abuse treatment as the real answer to America’s substance abuse epidemic.
A person’s education level, income, and level of success do not offer protection against substance abuse disorders. Lawyers, just like everyone else, suffer from substance abuse, and the effects are devastating despite this group’s generally higher incomes and access to resources. The American Bar Association recognizes that substance abuse treatment is the key to turning the dismal statistics around, both within the law profession and in society in general.
If you are trapped by addiction, then substance abuse treatment is your way out. We encourage you to learn about our admissions. There is no obligation, and you will be that much closer to making the life-changing choice of properly addressing substance abuse.