The interwoven social fabric of substance abuse and attorneys

substance abuse among attorneys

A recent study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine delved into the extent of substance use disorders (SUDs) and mental health issues among attorneys.

Lead author, Patrick Krill, founder and principal of Krill Strategies — a behavioral and consulting company focused on reducing mental health and addiction issues among lawyers — initially began treating addiction within the law community as a clinician.

“I was frustrated with the lack of available resources,” he said. “There’s not a lot of literature on attorney addiction, and there weren’t a lot of studies and statistics.”

The research was a collaboration by the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and assessed 12,825 licensed and employed attorneys on alcohol and drug use, and symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.

It also measured their use of addiction treatment services and the barriers that exist between attorneys and the medical services they need. The respondents were mostly 31 to 40 years old, of which 53.4 percent were men and 46.5 percent were women. An overwhelming majority of the population was Caucasian/White at 91.3 percent, 34.8 percent of which had a legal professional career of 10 years or less.

Krill, who considers himself an advocate on this issue, said that  “all lawyers know that these are big problems in the profession,” but are “relatively unknown,” to the public.

Behavioral health problems were discovered

Age groups dictated test scores. Proportionally, younger, less experienced male attorneys had more positive screens for SUDs and mental health complications than the rest of the group.

Additionally, some respondents experienced mental health issues including anxiety (19 percent), depression (28 percent) and stress (23 percent).

More than 20 percent of the population screened positive for dangerous and potentially alcohol-dependent drinking. More than 25 percent of surveyed males participated in risky drinking behaviors when compared to females at 15.5 percent; 31.9 percent of respondents 30 years or younger and 25.1 percent of attorneys under 40 engaged in dangerous drinking habits.

Overall, junior associates ranked as the most at-risk participants of problematic alcohol use at 31.1 percent.

Out of 2,901 respondents, 22.6 percent of the surveyed population, believed their substance use or alcohol use was detrimental at some point in their lifetimes. Of that group, 27.6 percent said it began before law school, 14.2 percent during law school, 43.7 percent during the first 15 years of completing law school, and 14.6 percent after the first 15 years of completing law school.

Attorneys employed by private firms or the bar association and junior and associate level attorneys had a higher percentage of substance abuse than those in other settings and other positions.

“There’s a lot of drinking in our society, generally, but it’s really amplified in the legal profession,” Krill said. “If you go to work in a private law firm, that’s where we found the highest rates of problem drinking. In that environment, it’s high-stakes, high-pressure and a lot of dysfunctional coping mechanisms. Lawyers basically self-medicate, and that’s where the drinking comes in.”

For many law firms, alcohol is a part of… (continue reading)