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Why Alcoholism Rates Are So High For Lawyers

When it comes to alcoholism, there is a connection between career choices and drinking habits. Unfortunately, certain professions seem to have greater percentages of workers who struggle with alcohol abuse. The American Bar Association (ABA) published a study that confirms that lawyers have a higher percentage of people who abuse alcohol when compared to the general population. This study identifies two factors: the high percentage of substance abuse and the presence of mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.

Risk Groups

Other studies in the past had shown the connection between alcoholism and lawyers, but they underrepresented the number. It also seemed to determine that older lawyers showed higher risks for developing mental health and substance abuse issues. However, younger lawyers are now shown to fall into a higher risk group among their peers.

Study Details

This expansive study was a combined effort by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the lawyer assistance programs of the ABA commission. It evaluated over 10,000 judges and lawyers who were employed and licensed in the United States. The participants completed the alcohol use disorders identification test. This assessment is used to evaluate alcohol abuse disorders by the World Health Organization.

Study Results

The results revealed that almost 21 percent of the participants had problems with alcohol use. However, when evaluating the questions of how much they drank, it showed that over one-third of the attorneys and judges suffered from alcohol addiction. This shows that many don’t feel that they have a problem. The mental health number revealed that almost 30 percent of the participants experienced depression. Stress and anxiety were reported by 23 and 19 percent of the contributors.

Rising Alcoholism

Prior studies had shown lower numbers. This indicates that alcohol addiction is on the rise among lawyers, especially since one in three of the legal professionals have problems with alcohol use. The general population has an adult alcoholism rate of 6.8 percent. This figure was determined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse.

Who is Affected the Most?

Junior associates were reported to have the most problems while junior partners had the lowest. Attorneys with less than 10 years of experience had substantially higher alcohol abuse rates when compared to senior peers. From the professionals who completed the study, almost 29 percent admitted to a drinking problem within their first decade of practicing law. This rate decreased to 21 percent in the second decade of work.

When Does it Start?

While some belief exists that drinking starts in law school, 45 percent of the participants stated that their habits began in the first 15 years of practicing law. This specifies that any start of a legal career has a high likelihood of leading to drinking problems. The study did not investigate the reasons for drinking, but strong theories exist about the relationship between alcoholism and lawyers.

Drinking Culture

The culture of the career embraces social drinking, especially when attorneys belong to a firm. Drinking seems part of daily professional life. This applies to client meetings during the day and social events after work, both of which involve alcohol consumption on a frequent basis.

Law School

The other reasons start in law school when many students aren’t prepared for the stressful situations. They might experience mental health issues because of the competitive and rigorous nature of the business. Anxiety and depression often start at this point.

Since alcoholism is linked to mental health disorders in many cases, students might start to self-medicate to get through stress in school. As time goes by and they start to practice law, they find more stress that worsens the situation. While many law students might not register as alcoholics, the behavior can certainly start at that point.


Overachievers and perfectionists often choose law careers. This means that they might have predispositions towards the use of alcohol as a tool to handle pressure. Since workers in the legal field often put success above wellness, they don’t see unhealthy coping mechanisms as troublesome.


Finally, it also boils down to stress that’s tied to debt. Since young lawyers often graduate with a mountain of student loans, this creates additional pressure. College costs rise continuously while the availability of well-paying jobs seems to decline, so this creates a dreary outlook for many.

The staff at the Center for Professional Recovery works with clients from high-profile careers such as doctors and lawyers, helping them overcome substance abuse and co-occurring disorders as needed.


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