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12.10.2016

Lawyers Often Face Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues

The American Bar Association and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation have partnered to look at the rates for substance abuse and mental health issues among lawyers. The results of the study were reported in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

Researchers used self-reporting surveys to gather information from 12,825 licensed attorneys. Study participants were almost equally divided among men and women (53.4 percent vs. 46.5 percent), with 31-40 years of age being the most common age group. Most of the participants described themselves as being White (91.3 percent), and the most commonly reported career length was 10 years or fewer (34.8 percent).

Anxiety and Depression a Significant Issue

The results of the research gathered showed that a significant number of respondents experience depression, anxiety and stress. The percentages were 28 percent for mild or higher levels of depression, 19 percent for anxiety and 23 percent for stress.

Problem Drinking Scored High Among Respondents

The respondents were asked to complete an Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT). More than 20 percent of them (20.6 percent) scored at a level “consistent with problematic drinking”; 25.1 percent of men surveyed drank at this consumption level compared with 15.5 percent of women.

Younger lawyers had a significantly higher level of alcohol consumption than older ones. Attorney under the age of 30 were most at risk for problematic drinking, with 31.9 percent of them engaged in this behavior. Lawyers under the age of 40 represented the next-highest risk group, with 25.1 percent.

Of the respondents who felt that drinking or use of other substances was a problem, over one-quarter (27.6 percent) said that their issue started before law school, 14.2 percent said that the problem started while attending law school and 43.7 percent said that the problem began within 15 years of completing law school. Just over 14 percent of respondents said that their problem with alcohol or substances started more than 15 years after completing law school.

Barriers to Getting Help for Substance Abuse

The survey respondents said that there were two main barriers to getting help for substance abuse: fear of others finding out they needed help and privacy concerns.

In light of these results being made public, hopefully more lawyers will realize they are not alone and feel comfortable about seeking help for substance abuse and mental health concerns. Treatment centers like Genesis House offer specialized rehabilitation programs to help professionals begin their recovery and return to work with new tools to remain sober.

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