Sadly, lawyers are a group vulnerable to succumbing to addictions. In fact, according to one study, while 10% of the general population suffers from alcohol addiction, this number increases to 20% among lawyers. That’s right: one in five lawyers are alcoholics. At this point, you may be starting to wonder who in your firm proves this statistic. I would advise against this game, however. Although it may seem mildly entertaining at first, you’ll quickly realize that it’s actually pretty sick. This is because, of course, the statistic is true.
I remember being warned about the problem of substance abuse in the legal profession during the first week of 1L orientation when we watched a video about addicted attorneys. Unfortunately, this movie — which followed high functioning alcoholics and a woman with a shopping problem — failed to have its intended effect. That is, instead of scaring me away from drugs and alcohol, the film left me with the misguided impression that being a lawyer is easy. After all, if those people could practice law when they were completely wasted, doing it sober must be a breeze.
Notwithstanding my experience during 1L orientation, I do realize that drug and alcohol abuse is a serious issue in our profession, and not one to be taken lightly. If you or anyone you know has dealt with an addiction, you know how hard it can be. The question is, why are lawyers at such a high risk?
According to Don Carroll, author of the book A Lawyer’s Guide to Healing: Solutions for Addiction and Depression, lawyers are more likely to have one of two personality types that easily succumb to addiction — either the “romantic-idealist” personality or the “judge” personality.
In a nutshell, a person with a romantic-idealist personality has an idealized notion of the world in terms of values and justice. As a lawyer, the romantic-idealist is perpetually distressed by the fact that such an ideal world does not, in fact, exist. As a result, she turns to substance abuse.
The judge personality type is slightly different and perhaps more familiar to those of us in private practice: it’s a person with a rigid, controlling personality who must do things in excess or not at all. Sound familiar?
Assuming most lawyers fall into one of the above categories, this means that many of us are at risk. To put this theory to the test, I researched what it means to be an alcoholic and took this helpful quiz, according to which I learned I suffer from a Medium Level Alcohol Problem. I will admit I was a bit surprised. After all, I am at least purporting to be a health and wellness columnist for the legal profession.
So, if most lawyers really are vulnerable to addictions, what can we do?
For those readers out there who have real problems and need real help: go get it. There are tons of resources available to you, but I recommend starting with your local bar… association. But seriously, get help.
For everyone else — especially those who suspect they might be teetering on the edge of a full-blown addiction — there are a few steps you can take to keep your drinking and other substance use in check:
- Keep a drink journal for 30 days. Each night before you go to bed, write down how many drinks you had that day. By the end of the month, you’ll likely be surprised by what you have consumed, which, in turn, will make you a more mindful drinker.
- Take a break from alcohol during the week. If you’re used to having a drink every day after work, try taking a night off here and there.
- Yoga. Really, I can’t overstate the benefits of yoga. It builds muscle, burns calories, and, most importantly, it reduces stress, which is a trigger for addictive behavior. Or, if you aren’t interested in yoga, then seek out some other physical activity — running, rock climbing, whatever. Although I tend believe yoga is a superior form of exercise, other activities will probably do the trick, too.
- If you must do something in excess, pick something relatively healthy and safe. Even though watching House Hunters marathons on the weekends probably isn’t the best use of your time, it’s better than getting drunk and passing out in someone’s house — be it one with curb appeal, a Jack-and-Jill bathroom, or an updated kitchen.
In sum, even if you aren’t an addict yet, the fact that you’re a lawyer may mean you’re more prone to addiction. Despite this, you may be able to avoid a full blown addiction by becoming more aware of your addictive behavior and taking small preventive steps such as those outlined above.
Elizabeth Adams (not her real name) is a recent law school graduate, former federal judicial clerk, and aspiring health guru. She currently practices insurance coverage litigation at a mid-sized law firm. When she isn’t sitting at a desk — which isn’t very often — she is following her bliss. At the moment, this mainly involves working toward becoming a certified yoga teacher. Elizabeth’s column focuses on exploring how and whether lawyers can achieve a sustainable work-life balance. She can be reached at email@example.com.