June 07, 2012 Articles

A Young Lawyer's Guide to Ethically Confronting Substance Abuse

What happens when someone whose job is to help people is the one who needs help?

By Rachel G. Packer

We see headlines almost daily about different celebrities’ wild behavior while drunk or on drugs and their frequent trips to rehab. In fact, sadly, sobriety seems to be more of an exception to the rule for actors, models, musicians, and even some professional athletes. But what happens when someone who makes a career out of helping other people is the one who needs help? In light of the recent deaths of two iconic music figures resulting from their own struggles with substance abuse, it seems appropriate to address how we as lawyers deal with substance abuse in our own field and what resources are available to those who need them.

While most of us will likely never find ourselves abusing drugs or alcohol, a few will succumb to the urge to use substances as an escape from the stress of daily life as a busy lawyer. Even those who choose not to turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress will likely encounter substance abuse in the profession at some point. As young lawyers, we may find it particularly difficult to address a substance-abuse issue with a colleague, especially one who is older or in a position of authority. If such a situation arises, are we ethically obligated to take action? If so, how is the duty discharged?

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