There has been much discussion around the topic of substance abuse and mental health issues in the legal profession.
But now, for the first time in decades, a team of researchers has verified and quantified the problem in a newly published study that shows that 21 percent of attorneys qualify as problem drinkers, 28 percent struggle with depression and 19 percent have anxiety. Researchers from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs teamed up to conduct the study, surveying 15,000 lawyers across 19 states, according to a press release.
“This long-overdue study clearly validates the widely held but empirically under-supported view that our profession faces truly significant challenges related to attorney well-being,” said Patrick R. Krill, an attorney, clinician and lead author of the study. “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. Attorney impairment poses risks to the struggling individuals themselves and to our communities, government, economy and society. The stakes are too high for inaction.”
The study found rates of substance abuse and mental health issues among lawyers that are similar to the findings of previous research. But there is one finding that differs: The researchers found that lawyers are more likely to have problems in the first 10 years of practice, while past studies found that rates of problem drinking increased as an attorney went through a life in the law.
Lawyers experience alcoholism and significant mental health distress at rates that are far higher than other professionals like doctors, the study said. But lawyers face barriers to seeking help, including fears that others will find out and concerns about confidentiality.
Learn more about substance abuse and mental health issues among Texas lawyers from Texas Lawyer’s indepth coverage of this issue.