Stress can do funny things to people. Some people overeat, others partake in a few too many drinks and others turn to drugs (both illegal and prescription). Where most people may question the sense in a person’s diet, they may not take as kindly to your use of alcohol or drugs.
That does not necessarily mean that you should lose your license to practice law or face criminal charges. More than likely, what you need most is help with your addiction. The fact of the matter is that you are in good company.
In 2016 alone, almost 21 percent of the lawyers in the United States reported to the American Bar Association that they had a drinking problem. In fact, nearly 95 percent of the problems that lawyers have with substance abuse involve alcohol. Problem drinkers comprise approximately one of every three attorneys, and one of every five has a disorder involving the use of alcohol.
When it comes to drug use issues, lawyers tend to abuse Valium, OxyContin and cocaine more often than other drugs, whether they are prescription or illegal narcotics.
What makes lawyers so susceptible to addiction?
If you currently suffer from a substance abuse issue, the answer to this question may be clear to you. Being an attorney is stressful, frustrating and demanding. Beyond that, many lawyers and law firms tend to have alcohol at social gatherings, celebrations and business meetings. Discussing a case over a drink is so commonplace that some lawyers may not even realize they are developing a problem.
Whether you hung out a shingle on your own or joined a firm, you likely spent hundreds of hours working in your first years as an attorney. That doesn’t even count the pressure you may be under to win cases or bring in profitable settlements. Often, knowing the intimate details of a client’s life can also lead to poor sleep and feeling disturbed. This may account for why approximately 34 percent of criminal attorneys suffer from “secondary traumatic stress.”
Not surprisingly, under these circumstances, when you need to relax, you may reach for a drink. An injury may have introduced you to habit forming pain killers. Then, even after your pain went away, you took the drugs in order to “take the edge off” and relax.
Now you face disciplinary action
Your first instinct may be to fight any potential disciplinary action based on your addiction. After all, as a lawyer, your business is adversarial proceedings. However, when it comes to going before The State Bar of California, the better approach may be to show that you want help and are willing to work with the bar’s prosecutors to come to a resolution that allows you to remain a practicing attorney.
You more than likely spend at least some of your time telling your clients that they should not represent themselves if they want to improve their chances of succeeding in their endeavors, whatever they may be. Just as many people say that doctors make the worst patients, it could be said that lawyers make the worst legal clients. It may be to your advantage to enlist the help of a colleague who regularly represents attorneys in your current predicament.