Research suggests that lawyers suffer addiction at double the rate of the general population, but some experts fear the situation is even more dire. To find out, the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation plan to survey lawyers about addiction, anxiety and depression.
“It appears the problem may be growing even worse,” said Patrick Krill, who leads the Hazelden legal professional program. “It’s time to update the research and, in doing so, highlight the apparent need to devote more attention and allocate greater resources to this important issue.”
A 2012 report by Hazelden cited findings that, as of 1990, 18 percent of attorneys had drinking problems, compared to 10 percent for the general population. One-quarter of the attorneys who’d practiced for 20 years or more had an alcohol problem, and lawyers suffering substance-abuse problems were also more likely to face malpractice suits.
A separate 1990 study found that lawyers had the highest depression rate among the 105 occupations examined, at above 10 percent.
The ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, which educates the public and lawyers about alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, suicide and other emotional problems, is spearheading the new study with Hazelden.
“We should celebrate this important collaboration,” commission chair Terry Harrell said. “Having well-conducted, current research on how these issues impact our profession will help us to better target our resources and provide the best assistance we can to our profession. In addition, this research will help inform the work of lawyer discipline, judicial discipline, lawyer admissions and all those providing treatment to judges, lawyers and law students.”
Bar leaders also hope that more comprehensive information about lawyer substance abuse, depression and suicide rates will help eliminate barriers that attorneys face when they seek help for those problems.
Researchers will work with state bar associations to send anonymous, online surveys to their members. “We’re hoping this method will encourage a higher number of responses and greater candidness,” Krill said.
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