February 05, 2021 Feature

The Impaired Lawyer

Ashley Oldham

It’s no secret that the legal profession has its fair share of members dealing with substance use, mental health, and cognitive issues. In fact, research suggests the legal profession may have more than its fair share. In 2016, the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation published a study finding that of the 13,000 practicing lawyers it examined, between 21 and 36 percent qualify as problem drinkers and approximately 28 percent, 19 percent, and 23 percent are struggling with some level of depression, anxiety, and stress, respectively. Patrick R. Krill et al., The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys, 10 J. Addiction Med. 46 (2016). It’s not difficult to identify the cause of the legal profession’s seemingly disproportionate rates of mental health and substance use issues. Increases in the use of drugs and alcohol are correlated with increases of stress and pressure in an individual’s life. Robert Holman Coombs, Drug-Impaired Professionals (Harvard Univ. Press 1997). Between strict deadlines, billable hours, crippling student loan debt, and the adversarial nature of the work, stress and pressure seem to be core tenants of the legal profession.

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