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Landmark study: Addiction, mental health among attorneys

Their View

By Jim Grandone | Apr 26, 2016

A landmark study of 15,000 attorneys in 19 U.S. states found that one in three practitioners are problem drinkers. The study found that attorneys with less than 10 years in practice exhibit the highest incidence of problem drinking, depression and anxiety. It is the first nationwide effort to gather data about the legal profession.

It was conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, which treats people with addiction.

The study has been characterized by Hazelden as long overdue, according to and clearly indicates a problem exists among the legal profession in the area of substance abuse. No study of the issue had been done for decades before this one.

Significant findings include:

• Men had a significantly higher proportion of positive screens for problematic (alcohol) use compared with women; 

• Younger lawyers had a significantly higher proportion compared with the older age groups; 

• Attorneys working in private firms or for the bar association had higher proportions than those in other environments; 

• Higher proportions were found for those at the junior or senior associate level compared with other positions; 

• Among attorneys using prescription and illicit drugs, in the past 12 months, those using stimulants had the highest rate of weekly usage (74.1%), followed by sedatives (51.3%), tobacco (46.8%), marijuana (31.0%), and opioids (21.6%); 

• Men had significantly higher levels of depression; 

• Women had higher levels of anxiety and stress; and 

• Anxiety, depression, and stress scores decreased as participants’ age or years worked in the field increased.

"This study is significant in that it benchmarks addiction and other mental health issues for the first time in decades. It will be useful in estimating the number of potential clients that the Lawyers Assistance Program can expect in the future, so that we can ensure adequate resources are available to help lawyers facing addiction." said, Jim Radcliffe Associate Director of the Illinois Lawyers’ Assistance Program (LAP). The program, which began in1980, serves all lawyers, judges and law students in Illinois suffering from the afflictions addressed in this comprehensive study as well as other impairment issues. Radcliffe is a retired judge.

The full study is accessible at the Journal of Addiction Medicine:

Jim Grandone is president of Grandone Media Strategies, which serves lawyers and law firms in the area of communication and strategy. Jim can be reached at (618) 692-1892.

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