Big Law’s Big Issue With Mental Health And Substance Abuse

From the long work hours to the grueling court cases, the day-to-day of an attorney can increase the likelihood of suffering from mental health and substance abuse issues. The number of workers who resort to drugs and alcohol is a growing cause for concern. Before we deep dive into the statistics surrounding addiction in big law, let’s first discuss why these professionals get to this low point in the first place. 

The Prevalence Of Problem Drinking & Risk Factors Among Legal Professionals

Persons in the legal profession have reported higher rates of problematic drinking behaviors when compared to other populations. A recent survey on the subject indicated that 36.4% of respondents had scores on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, version C (AUDIT-C), which is consistent with problematic drinking. In comparison, AUDIT-C scores consistent with problem drinking have been self-reported by only 15.4% of surgeons. When compared to the general population, women in legal professions had much higher rates of problematic drinking (39.5%) vs women in the general population (19.4%). While the proportion of male legal professionals with drinking issues was consistent with men in the rest of the population, heavy drinking among legal professionals is not a new occurrence. As a matter of fact, a 1990 study assessed problem drinking behaviors among lawyers. It found that 18% were problem drinkers, compared to 10% prevalence rate in the United States at that time. Lawyers have also reported or presented personality characteristics and 2 personality disorders that might be linked to higher propensity for substance use disorders.

A Culture Heavily Imbued In Alcoholism

When a multitude of professionals in the legal field turn to alcohol for relief of stress and anxiety, a culture of alcohol quickly develops. It should be noted that the problem does not distribute evenly throughout the profession. Junior associates had higher incidences of abusing alcohol vs their more tenured counterparts. Senior associates are next, and junior partners follow. With a myriad of these dilemmas occurring in the early days of law school, drinking culture continues to manifest, even as these people pay their dues and climb up the ranks. After some time, drinking is not just used as a coping mechanism, but a form of social lubricant, making it easier to relate to colleagues. 

Mental Health Challenges In The Legal Profession

Addiction in big law starts to form for the up and comers in law school. Students are inundated with heavy workloads and feel immense pressure to compete. As a result, there is a growing instability in their mental health problems, which can open up access to prescription medications just so they can cope. Findings have indicated that 1 in 5 lawyers has used alcohol or drugs in excess, throughout their lives. For the vast majority, this problem started after entering law school. 

Coping With Stress In Law School

The American Bar Association has released information that further proves these declines and disruptions. 40% of law students suffer from depression after just one year of law school. The depression often lingers through the rest of law school and during their careers. Part of the issue is that many students believe reaching out for help is a sign of weakness. However, asking for help in this day and age, is and always should feel empowering. Trying to be stoic in the face of adversity is deemed as a badge of honor for many people. Generally speaking, male students are less likely to seek help than female students. Straight students are less likely than LGBTQ students, and students of colors and those of lower economic status, don’t pursue help as often as they should, either. 

Ethical Dilemmas

Since these mental health ailments persist, it almost comes as no surprise to find that lawyers are self-medicating. Experts consider the overwhelming stress in the legal profession to be a prime culprit. The heavy workload knows no bounds. With young lawyers, they have the added stress of developing a clientele to prove themselves. With that said, stress is not the only driving factor.On a daily basis, lawyers are faced with the stress of balancing success in their field, and dealing with their own ethical principles. The ongoing conflicts are big contributors towards mental health issues. Typically, lawyers are bound to argue a case and defend positions with which they fundamentally disagree, which continues to muddy the waters.

Stimulants: What Many Refer To As “Study Drugs”

Addiction in big law is not just limited to alcohol abuse. While students and seasoned lawyers use alcohol to cope with a behemoth of a workload, other drugs like stimulants are taken to help them perform the work. Stimulants are prevalent in big law, and most of them are acquired through the black market. Overworked attorneys find themselves sleep-deprived, exacerbating their difficulties in getting work finished. Some see stimulants as “study drugs”, and are under the belief that these drugs act as a catharsis for their issues. Adderall, Concerta, and Vyvanse or their equivalents are easy to acquire from the black market. Cocaine is another stimulant that is widely available for those that seek it. 

Addiction In Big Law: North Jersey Rehabs Will Support Your Journey Of Recovery 

Addiction in big law is finally getting some of the attention it deserves. The American Bar Association has continually urged authorities to provide their members with education and referral programs. However, there is growing recognition for professional intervention from teams like ours with North Jersey Rehabs. As attitudes change, the conditions for treating substance abuse should change as well. If you or a loved one are in need of support, contact us today! We would love to help you take that brave first step.


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