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Junior lawyers at high risk for problem drinking

February 3, 2016
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs published a new study online this week in the Journal of Addiction Medicine that measured problem drinking and other behavioral health issues among those in the legal profession.

More than 20% of the 12,825 licensed, employed U.S. attorneys surveyed qualify as problem drinkers, 28% struggle with some level of depression and 19% demonstrate symptoms of anxiety. When focusing solely on the volume and frequency of alcohol consumed, more than one in three practicing attorneys are problem drinkers, the study found.

Authors found differences among attorneys at different stages of their careers. Previous research indicated rates of problem drinking increased as individuals’ careers progressed, however, the Hazelden study found that younger attorneys in the first 10 years of practice exhibit the highest incidence of these issues  (28.9%), followed by attorneys practicing for 11 to 20 years (20.6%) with a continuing decrease at 21 years or more.

Of the lawyers who believe alcohol use has been a problem (23%), 44% indicated that the problem began within the first 15 years of practice, as opposed to those who said it started before law school (26.7%) or after more than 15 years in the field (14.5%).

Additionally, respondents reported that they did not seek treatment because they did not want others to find out they needed help and because of concerns regarding privacy or confidentiality.

Attorney and clinician Patrick R. Krill, Hazelden’s architect of the project and lead author of the study, said the findings are a call to action. 

“Any way you look at it, this data is very alarming, and paints the picture of an unsustainable professional culture that’s harming too many people,” Krill said in a statement.