By Andrea Smith • June 15, 2015•Issues, Other Issues
There’s little doubt that outside of the medical profession or law enforcement, few people see the effects of substance abuse more frequently and more clearly than attorneys. Whether you’re dealing with a child custody case complicated by substance abuse, a vehicle accident allegedly caused by substance influence, or a criminal case for illegal drugs, attorneys will encounter substance abuse issues throughout their careers.
But attorneys have considerably higher rates of substance abuse than the general population, despite their close familiarity with the harmful effects of substance abuse in their clients.
In any case, we begin by examining the facts. When it comes to attorneys and substance abuse, the use and abuse of harmful substances is quite common. In the general population, it’s estimated that 8-10% of people have some measure of chemical dependency. Among attorneys, 15-18% of attorneys have a chemical dependency.
It is also a fact that substance abuse does have harmful effects on attorneys. 40-75% of all disciplinary complaints made about attorneys involve substance abuse and/or mental health problems. A paper presented at the 2007 Emory Conference on Ethics and Professionalism on Lawyers and Disability notes, “In addition to having the requisite competence, a critical aspect of certification to practice law in each state is having the necessary character and fitness. Lawyers hold a high position of trust and are officers of the court. For that reason, character is an important part of the evaluation criteria for the state licensing board (which is often an instrument of the state supreme court, but which is always a state government agency of some type). Virtually all state bar licensing authorities ask a range of questions relating to criminal misconduct, financial affairs, and other matters relating to integrity.”
Why Do Attorneys Have More Problems with Substance Abuse?
Attorneys know that their jobs are intensely stressful. Like police officers and paramedics, attorneys usually work with clients who are going through something bad. They’ve been injured or hurt, they’re being sued, they’re being charged with a crime, they’re going through a divorce, or something else sad and traumatic is happening to throw their lives into upheaval. The stress of the career can be a strong contributing factor to substance abuse. One study found that 79% of attorneys surveyed said they used alcohol regularly “to reduce stress”.
Some theorize that attorneys are discouraged from seeking help for a substance abuse or underlying mental health problem because seeking that help could negatively impact their ability to obtain licensure from the state’s bar association. A survey of law students found that while 41% would seek help from a substance abuse or mental health program if they felt they had a substance abuse problem and the program was confidential, only 10% would seek help without the assurance of confidentiality. Students who may identify a substance abuse or underlying mental health problem in school may be deterred from seeking help for that problem due to fears about the impact on a future career.
How Do I Know if I Have a Problem?
According to the American Bar Association, the following may be signs or symptoms of substance abuse that friends, family members, or colleagues may notice:
• Changes to the eyes: bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, or enlarged pupils,
• Changes to appetite, sometimes causing unexpected weight changes,
• Changes to sleep patterns,
• Changes (deterioration) to physical appearance, personal hygiene, or personal grooming,
• Unusual smells on the breath, body, or clothing,
• Tremors (shaking hands or legs),
• Slurred speech,
• Impaired coordination (being clumsy),
• Problems with attendance or performance at work,
• Unexplained financial problems, sometimes paired with borrowing or stealing,
• Acting secretive or suspicious,
• Sudden or unexpected changes in friends, hobbies, or habits,
• Unexplained changes to attitude, personality, or behavior,
• Sudden mood swings or irritability,
• Periods of unusual hyperactivity or agitation,
• Loss of motivation,
• Inability to focus,
• Fear, anxiety, or paranoia with no reason.
The Best Drug Rehab
There’s a saying that the best drug rehab is the one that you go to. Different programs are available for different people, and the Best Drug Rehabilitation (Rehab) for you is one that meets your unique needs and concerns. Most private drug rehabilitation facilities will provide detoxification, counseling, treatment for underlying mental health problems, and skills training of some type.
The best drug rehabilitation facilities provide one-on-one counseling, a personalized approach to treatment, and several options for lifestyle or recovery groups to choose from. The combination of these will lead to a forever recovery.
Per Wickstrom, CEO of Best Drug Rehabilitation in Missour, says, “Many drug rehab facilities will provide therapeutic education in areas such as physical fitness, nutrition, music, and art – these types of holistic therapies can often be highly effective in helping patients recover and find new hobbies and interests.”
Financial planning, transition assistance, anger management, or communication skills training can help provide patients with the ability to rebuild their lives after a bout with substance addiction. Finally, the best drug rehab programs provide care and follow up after the initial period of hospitalization is complete, and this may include 12-step programs or relapse prevention groups.
Wickstorm says, “It is a common myth that you must hit ‘rock bottom’ before you can successfully rehabilitate yourself.” If you suspect that you might have a substance abuse problem, don’t wait until your relationships, your clients, your colleagues, and your career are affected. Substance addiction or dependency doesn’t go away on its own, and a minor problem today could end your career, your marriage, or your life in the future if left untreated.
 Robert D. Resner, Addiction and the Legal Profession, in CALIFORNIA MCLEMARATHON 2006:LATEST ISSUES IN LEGAL ETHICS—SUBSTANCE ABUSE—ELIMINATION OF BIAS IN THE PROFESSION 317 (PLILitig. and Admin. Practice, Course Handbook Series No. 9012, 2006)
 ABA COMM’N ON IMPAIRED ATTORNEYS, AN OVERVIEW OF LAWYER ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS IN THE UNITED STATES (1991)
 Rothstein, Laura. "Law Students and Lawyers with Mental Health and Substance Abuse Problems: Protecting the Public and the Individual." U. Pitt. L. Rev. 69 (2007): 531.
 Benjamin, Sales & Darling, 16 L. & PSYCHOL. REV. at 115 (citing Benjamin, Darling & Sales, 13 INT'L J.L. & PSYCHOLOGY at 240).
 Allison Wielobob, Bar Application Mental Health Inquiries: Unwise and Unlawful, HUM. RTS. MAG. Winter 1997, at 15; 1993 AALS Report, supra note 4, at 54-55.