Alcoholism and Drug Dependency in the Legal Profession
Alcoholism and/or Drug Dependency are major problems in this country affecting 10% of the population, according to the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse.
The rates of addiction are even higher in the legal profession. The American Bar Association estimates 15% to 20% of lawyers suffer from alcoholism and substance abuse. The Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission reports that substance abuse is a factor in 50% of the disciplinary cases that come before them.
Fortunately, treatment is available and recovery is possible. Lawyers, judges, and law students sometimes become addicted to alcohol and/or drugs and need specialized help to recover.
Definition of Alcoholism
In 1957, the American Medical Society determined that alcoholism is a disease. In 1990, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency and the American Society of Addiction Medicine issued a definition of alcoholism:
Alcoholism is a primary disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestation. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by continuous or periodic impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, the most notable being denial of a problem.
Chemical Dependency is characterized by the following elements:
- Craving: A strong need, or compulsion, to drink
- Loss of Control: The frequent inability to stop drinking once a person has begun.
- Physical Dependence: The occurrence of withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking. These symptoms are usually relieved by drinking alcohol or by taking another sedative drug.
- Tolerance: The need for increasing amounts of alcohol in order to get “high.”
What Are the Signs of a Problem?
The following questions can tell whether you, or someone close to you, may have a drinking problem. This is known as the CAGE questionnaire since those are the letters of the key words.
- Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
- Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (Eye opener)?
One “yes” response suggests a possible problem. If you responded “yes” to more than one question, it is likely a problem exists.
Acknowledging that help is needed may not be easy, but the real stigma comes when one does not take action to responsibly confront the problem. Alcoholism is a treatable disease rather than a moral weakness. Identifying the problem and seeking help can result in a more successful career, improved relationships, and a healthy, more rewarding life.
Is There a Problem?
Here are more questions to help you assess your use of alcohol or drugs.
- Are your associates, clients, secretary or family unjustly alleging that your drinking or drug use is interfering with your work or home life?
- Have you failed to show up or showed up late at the office or court because of a hangover or showed up under the influence of alcohol or drugs?
- Are you drinking or using drugs during the work day?
- Have you commingled, borrowed, or otherwise misused client’s trust or escrow funds?
- Are you missing deadlines, neglecting to process mail, or failing to keep appointments or answer phone calls?
- Do you ever really crave a drink or a fix to steady your nerves?
- Have you lied to cover up your drinking or use of drugs?
- Have you consumed alcohol or used drugs before a meeting or court appearance to calm your nerves, gain courage, or improve performance?
- Have you experienced loss of memory (blackout) after drinking or use of drugs?
- Have you ever had another attorney cover for you because of alcohol, drugs, or a hangover?
If you answered “yes” to two or more questions, then you owe it to yourself, your family, your clients, and your profession to call Lawyers’ Assistance Program. LAP can arrange a confidential and professional assessment.