If You're Reading This, You're Probably Already Drunk

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on February 08, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Plenty of attorneys will slump in to work today, bleary-eyed, bloodshot, and with a slight ringing in their head. Sure, it's the day after the Super Bowl, so that explains a bit of it. But for many lawyers, that's just the regular start to their day.

Lawyers are drunks. And there's empirical proof of it, thanks to a forthcoming study on attorney substance abuse.

My Drinking Is Only a Problem If You Make It One

A new study conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation (of Betty Ford Clinic fame) and the ABA proves what we've always known: lawyers drink a lot. Too much.

The study reports that about 21 percent of attorneys are problem drinkers, while 28 percent of attorneys struggle with depression and 19 percent have symptoms of anxiety.

The study surveyed almost 13,000 legal professionals, almost entirely practicing lawyers. Fifteen state bar associations emailed surveys to their members, based on the World Health Organization's 10-question Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. (You can play along here. The quiz is on page 17.) It's the first major survey of attorney drinking since a 1990 study on Washington State lawyers, according to the study's authors.

The AUDIT asks questions that anyone would be familiar with, such as "How often do you have a drink containing alcohol." It makes some atypical inquiries too, asking how often during the last year you needed a first drink in the morning. (Define "need.")

We All Drink a Lot, but Young Men Drink the Most

The results are revealing. Men are more likely to be problematic drinkers than women, for example. Younger attorneys and junior associates are also high on the drunk scale. Attorneys under 30 and junior associates earned a mean AUDIT score of 6.43 and 6.42, respectively. A score of 8 or more indicates hazardous and harmful drinking.

When you look at attorneys who answered just the first three AUDIT questions before giving up, 1 in 3 practicing lawyers are problem drinkers. That's a much higher rate of alcohol abuse in than other professions or the public at large.

A Silver Lining?

If there's good news to come out of the survey, it's that alcohol seems to be the only substance attorneys are abusing en masse. Nearly 11,000 or the 13,000 respondents had used alcohol in the past year. The second highest substance was tobacco, at slightly over 2,100. Just 107 lawyers had used cocaine, lower than the 722 who'd dabbled in opioids, which could include anything from heroin to oxycodone.

And of course, if you're worried about your alcohol consumption or that of someone close to you, there are many ways to get help.

The study's authors conclude by noting that the "confidential nature of lawyer-assistance programs should be more widely publicized in an effort to overcome the privacy concerns that may create barriers between struggling attorneys and the help they need."

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