The American Bar Association has published a new study describing rates of problem drinking among lawyers in the U.S. According to the findings, lawyers tend to suffer from substance abuse problems, particularly drinking, as well as depression and anxiety more than other types of professionals.
Previous studies have highlighted how lawyers have the lowest psychological health and well-being due to the stress of their job. It has been acknowledged in earlier research that alcohol abuse was a significant problem for American lawyers but this most recent study states that as many as one in three practicing lawyers are problem drinkers. With enormous workloads, overtime and intense pressure it can be difficult for lawyers to manage their mental health and many turn to alcohol abuse as an escape.
Problem Drinking Among Lawyers
The study involved a group of l2,825 licensed and employed lawyers in 19 states around the country and drew conclusions based on their automatic response to a questionnaire. The survey asked them to characterize their alcohol use and state of mental health.
The wording of the questionnaire defined problem drinking as "hazardous, harmful and potentially alcohol-dependent drinking." Based on their responses, researchers gathered that about 30 percent of lawyers are problem drinkers, 28 percent suffer from depression and 19 percent show symptoms of anxiety.
The study represented only a sample of the more than one million lawyers estimated to be currently practicing in the United States. Their findings, published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, also indicate that problem drinking among lawyers is notably higher than the 15 percent of surgeons who were characterized as abusing alcohol in a 2012 study of nearly 7,200 surgeons by the American College of Surgeons.
Overall the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that 6.8 percent of Americans over the age of 18 had alcohol use disorders.
Risks of the Legal Profession
Previous studies have found lawyers suffer from lower mental health and well-being than other professionals as a result of their difficult work environment. Lawyers are more likely to experience unhealthy behaviors in the workplaces including verbal abuse, mistreatment, bullying, competition and sexual harassment according to earlier research.
While a toxic work environment can contribute to psychological issues like depression and anxiety, the overwhelming stress of a highly demanding job is also a major factor in some of the issues that lawyers face. The most recent study found that lawyers working in law firms had the highest rates of alcohol abuse and junior associates reported the highest rate of problem drinking followed by senior associates and junior partners.
Co-authors of the study suggest that there is a culture of drinking among lawyers that could also be a factor in the prevalence of alcohol abuse. At a law firm there is a culture of drinking as a coping mechanism and lawyers at a firm are encouraged to socialize with clients which can often involve alcohol.
This new study is a more wide-ranging look at alcohol abuse among lawyers, revealing data which highlights a harmful drinking culture that is unsustainable for professional people. According to the findings, lawyers with fewer than 10 years of experience had much higher rates of alcohol abuse than their more senior colleagues.
The percentage of alcohol abuse seems to decrease gradually the longer that a lawyer has been practicing. Many in the study said that their problem drinking began in law school but more often they stated it began in their first 15 years of practice. The report concluded that being in the early stages of one's legal career is strongly correlated with a high risk of developing an alcohol abuse disorder.
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