Younger lawyers are most at risk for substance abuse and mental health problems. A recent study, “The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys,” conducted by the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs in partnership with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, found the above result, along with other frightening conclusions. Am I surprised? Absolutely not. Many ABA Young Lawyers Division (YLD) members finished law school during America’s worst economic crisis; we have more student loan debt than any other generation of lawyers; and far too many young lawyers are still unemployed or underemployed.
According to the findings, previous research suggested an increase in the prevalence of problematic drinking as the number of years spent in the profession increased. In the 2016 study, however, there was a direct reversal of that association—attorneys in the first 10 years of their practice now experience the highest rates of problematic use (28.9 percent), followed by attorneys practicing for 11 to 20 years (20.6 percent), with a continual slight decrease for those practicing 21 years and more.
These percentages also correspond with the participant’s position within a law firm—junior associates had the highest rates of problematic use, followed by senior associates, junior partners, and senior partners.
By comparison, only 6.8 percent of all Americans have a drinking problem. In addition to questions related to alcohol, participants were asked about their use of illicit drugs, including sedatives, marijuana, stimulants, and opioids: 74 percent of those who used stimulants took them weekly.
On September 15, 2016, the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation presented the results from this groundbreaking new research project. A free recording of the program, for CLE credit, is now available as well as the outline and handouts and PowerPoint presentation.
Additionally, while there isn’t an easy solution to this problem, it’s important to recognize warning signs of stress, depression, and suicide in oneself and others.
Symptoms of stress: headache; muscle tension or pain; chest pain; fatigue; change in sex drive; upset stomach; anxiety; changes in sleep patterns; lack of motivation or focus; irritability or anger
Symptoms of depression: persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings; feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism; feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness; loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex; difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions; insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping; overeating or appetite loss; thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts; persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease, even with treatment
• Be aware of your triggers
• Avoid controllable stressors
• Realize your limitations
• Eat and sleep well
• Have outlets—seek counseling, create or continue hobbies, journal your thoughts, or talk to friends
RESOURCES FOR HELP
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Crisis Text Line
Directory of State and Local Lawyer Assistance Programs
National Helpline for Judges Helping Judges
Law Student ListServ
The International Lawyers in Alcoholics Anonymous (ILAA) holds online meetings each Monday at 8:00 p.m and 10:00 p.m. EST. Click here to join.