Drug and Alcohol Addictions can Have an Effect on Lawyers

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Lawyers may look like they always have it together, but they too can face drug and alcohol addictions. There are many stereotypes associated with lawyers. People may immediately think of an ambulance chaser, always handing out business cards ready to take on accident clients. Others may think of lawyers as greedy, aggressive, or always ready to argue anything. While it is true that some lawyers may actually behave in one of those manners, you can find someone like that in most professions. Then there is the perception that many top lawyers always have a drink in their hand, entertaining high-power clients. Unfortunately, it seems that alcohol and drug abuse amongst lawyers is actually higher than the national average.
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Drug and Alcohol Statistics Among Lawyers

There have not been many studies done on the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse among lawyers. A small study in 1990 of Washington state lawyers showed significant numbers. In that study, researchers found 18% of lawyers surveyed were problem drinkers. That was twice the national average at the time.

The researchers of that study asked for more research to be done, but it took decades. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has survey results from 2015 that showed 6.2% of adults were affected by alcohol use disorder. This study was for the whole nation, not a specific industry.

A study released in 2016 of lawyers showed that 20.6% of lawyers reported alcohol use problems. That is significantly higher than the national average. When the researchers took a closer look at some specific questions, it revealed that 36.4% of the lawyers surveyed could qualify as problem drinkers. It looks like alcohol use disorders occur at a much higher rate in the legal field than in other professions.

Why are Lawyers Prone to Alcohol and Drug Addictions?

Alcohol and drug use may have started for some people during law school. However, 44% of lawyers surveyed said their problem drinking began in the first 15 years of their career. Drinking alcohol is seen as part of the culture in the law industry, being used to celebrate wins and to mourn defeats. Some people may not realize they have an alcohol addiction because it is seen as normal in the profession.

Substance use among attorneys is not limited to alcohol. There are law students that began using Ritalin and Adderall to keep up with schoolwork. They continued to use those drugs to be productive on the job, allowing them to work late hours. This kind of lifestyle cannot be maintained long, and eventually, drug use creates more problems than productiveness.

In the survey released in 2016, there were also mental health questions. Lawyers in the survey reported higher levels of mental health struggles. People often use alcohol or drugs to cope with mental difficulties. Results showed:

  • 28% of lawyers reported high levels of depression
  • 19% of lawyers reported high levels of anxiety
  • 23% of lawyers reported high levels of stress
  • 61% reported concerns with anxiety at some point in their career
  • 46% reported concerns over depression at some point in their career

The Difference Between Alcohol and Drug Misuse and Addiction

Drug misuse is when someone uses a prescription medicine the wrong way. For example, taking the wrong amount or taking someone else’s prescription. Prescription drug misuse can turn into an addiction.

Drug abuse is anytime a substance is used to alter the state of the brain. Using alcohol to get drunk is an example of drug abuse. Using a substance to get high, including legal substances, is also drug abuse. Anytime someone uses an illegal drug it is considered abuse.

Drug and alcohol addictions are also known as substance use disorders. Using drugs changes the human brain. When someone uses a lot, they typically move from abuse into addiction. An addiction is the inability to stop consuming a drug, substance, or activity even when it causes physical or psychological harm.

What is a High Functioning Addict?

When someone asks what an addict looks like, visions of people lying in a room with needles in their arms might come to mind. Another possible perception is a homeless person walking around with a shopping cart of their belongings and a bottle in a paper bag. While this sadly is true it is not always the case.

There are lots of misconceptions about addictions. Drug and alcohol addictions happen to people from all walks of life. This includes lawyers who appear to be productive and thriving.

A high-functioning addict may not realize they have an issue. They get up every day, get ready, and go to work. They are meeting obligations and expectations. They can even be experts in their fields.

High-functioning addicts may experience side effects of using, like hangovers. They may play it off as not feeling well or not being a morning person. They can maintain this for quite some time as they can be very good at hiding an addiction if they realize they have a problem. Of all alcoholics in the United States 19.5% are considered high functioning.

What are Some Signs of Drug and Alcohol Addiction?

If a lawyer is affected by drug or alcohol addiction, there are some general signs that are noticeable no matter what kind of substance is being used. These include:

  • Lack of interest in hobbies or activities
  • Chronically being late
  • Poor work performance
  • Increased need for privacy, hiding texts or calls
  • Not paying bills
  • Requesting to borrow money
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Dropping old friends, adding questionable new friends
  • Social withdrawal, isolating themselves
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Irritability or seems easily confused
  • Aggressiveness or violent behavior

As shown above, lawyers may be prone to alcohol use because it seems to be part of the industry’s culture. There are some specific signs of addiction that go with alcohol use. This includes:

  • The smell of alcohol on the breath that lingers for hours after heavy drinking
  • Weight loss from drinking instead of eating
  • Dry skin, brittle hair and nails, and an increased appearance of aging and wrinkles
  • Broken capillaries (small blood vessels) on the face and nose
  • Yellow eyes and skin due to liver damage
  • Continuing to drink despite feeling depressed or anxious, adding to another health problem, or after having had a memory blackout
  • Drinking much more to get the same effect or finding the usual number of drinks has become less effective than before
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritable moods, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating after the alcohol wears off

There is Help Available for Lawyers With Drug or Alcohol Addictions

If a lawyer has realized that they have a drug or alcohol addiction, they are not alone. There are lots of treatment options available to get sober. The first step is often detox. This is an important step for breaking an alcohol addiction.

Detoxification happens when a substance is no longer used and is processed completely out of the body. During this process, a person goes through physical and mental changes that can sometimes be difficult to handle. Trying to quit on their own is not very effective for most people. In some cases, withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and require medical supervision.

Alcohol withdrawal can actually be extremely dangerous. This is the case if the person was a heavy drinker, or has been drinking for more than ten years. Less severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Feeling anxious
  • Feeling tired
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Headache
  • Appetite loss
  • Insomnia

Those who are detoxing from alcohol could experience the most severe withdrawal symptoms called delirium tremens (DTs). Someone experiencing DTs needs medical supervision as DTs can be fatal without proper treatment.  Symptoms often begin 48 to 96 hours after a heavy drinker’s last drink. Symptoms of DTs include:

  • Body tremors
  • Agitation, irritability
  • Deep sleep for over 24 hours
  • Restlessness
  • Sensitivity to light, touch, and sound
  • Quick mood changes
  • Delirium (Sudden severe confusion)
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

There are a few different styles of detox available. Lawyers, and anyone needing help, should consult a medical professional to find the best treatment option for their situation. The best detox treatment for alcohol addiction is medication assisted treatment (MAT).

  • Holistic detox– A Holistic detox approach uses natural methods to support the body while it empties of drugs or alcohol.  The method combines nutritional therapy, emotional support, and exercise programs to assist recovery.
  • Medical detox- Medical detox uses medical professionals’ supervision to monitor withdrawal symptoms. Medications can sometimes be given to avoid some symptoms.
  • Medication assisted treatment- Medication assisted treatment combines medication and behavioral therapy. This treatment uses FDA-approved medications that do not impair a person’s mental state. This reduces cravings and allows for behavioral therapy to be most effective.

Types of Drug and Alcohol Rehab

After someone has completed a detox program they are not finished. Detox helps the body, but there are still behavioral and mental issues that need to be addressed. If someone does not understand why they were using substances it is likely they will start using again.

There are several types of rehab services available. The type of treatment depends on the level of care needed to get and stay sober.

  • Inpatient rehab is the highest level of care. These are usually 28-day programs that may or may not also provide detox services. If detox services are not provided, they likely will offer referrals.
  • Partial hospitalization programs, also called PHPs, provide care at a higher level in a day program setting. People may attend every day or several days a week depending on the level of care they need. They do not live at the facility. Partial hospitalization programs can also be good for a transition from inpatient care to outpatient care.
  • Intensive outpatient programs allow normal day-to-day activities to continue uninterrupted and still receive the care needed to beat an addiction. These programs run during the evening hours several times a week. This can be a good option for those who need to continue to work while getting treatment
  • Outpatient therapy uses individual therapy sessions and could sometimes include group sessions. This style of treatment is best for those who have already finished a higher level of drug and alcohol treatment program.

Sometimes the underlying cause for substance use is a co-occurring disorder. A co-occurring disorder is when someone has a substance addiction and a mental health issue happening at the same time. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says 7.7 million adults have co-occurring mental health issues and substance abuse issues. Some common co-occurring disorders include:

SpringBoard Recovery Can Help Lawyers

At SpringBoard Recovery, we have flexible options to help lawyers get the treatment they need to get sober. Medical professionals design the best treatment plan for each person. We take into consideration how long someone has been using and the amount of support they need.

Sober living homes are also available at SpringBoard Recovery. A sober living home is a residence for people in recovery with some rules that need to be followed. Residents are required to pay rent and their own expenses and be part of an outpatient treatment program.  There are no drugs or alcohol allowed at the house and residents may need to do occasional drug tests.

SpringBoard Recovery offers a variety of therapy options. We can also help those with co-occurring disorders. Some of the therapy choices we offer include:

Learn More About Addiction Help For Lawyers

A lawyer’s professional life does not need to be affected by drug or alcohol addiction. Help is available. Do you need more information about drug and alcohol addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one? Please contact us today.

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