One in three of America's licensed lawyers have serious drinking problem and many suffer from depression and anxiety, findings of a new study funded by the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation reveal.
Many lawyers turn out to be drinking in a manner that is deemed harmful and potentially alcohol dependent and this reflects the stress and cultural norms in their highly competitive field.
A survey of more than 12,000 employed lawyers in 19 states across the U.S. have revealed that the rate of problem drinking is highest among lawyers who are below 30 years old at 31.9 percent followed by junior associates at law firms at 31.1 percent.
The prevalence of drinking in this age group could be partly driven by the tendency of younger Americans to drink heavily but it may also be a reflection of the stress that young lawyers experience in the highly competitive field.
Young lawyers often have to work harder to be successful. Young practitioners likewise face student debt and difficulty in finding a job, which places them under great stress.
"There is a sense that it is a perfect storm of variables that lead to higher incidence of problem drinking, partly to do with people who are attracted to the profession in the first place-competitive, driven, ambitious, hardworking people who prioritize success and accomplishment way above personal health and well-being," lawyer and study author Patrick Krill said.
Practitioners in other high-stress and competitive fields like medicine may also experience the same pressure and share the same competitive traits with lawyers but the survey shows that the extent of drinking problem among lawyers is different in that on a measure based on the quantity and frequency of alcohol use, the rate of problem drinking among lawyers is twice that of doctors.
Krill said that the prevalence of heavy drinking among lawyers suggests of a cultural nature. He said that firm lawyers are encouraged to socialize with their clients and this often involves alcohol. Problem drinking thus become normalized within many law firms.
Because alcohol abuse is also linked to mental health, it is not surprising that 28 percent of those who were surveyed reported to be suffering from depression. This rate is more than three times the prevalence of depression in general population with only 8 percent of the general public experiencing a bout of depression in a year.
Nineteen percent of the surveyed lawyers were also found to have anxiety issues and 23 percent reported to be suffering from stress.
Krill and colleagues said that the findings highlight a need for prevention and treatment interventions that are specifically addressed for lawyers.
"Attorneys experience problematic drinking that is hazardous, harmful, or otherwise consistent with alcohol use disorders at a higher rate than other professional populations," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine. "Mental health distress is also significant. These data underscore the need for greater resources for lawyer assistance programs, and also the expansion of available attorney-specific prevention and treatment interventions."