Lawyers are stressed out, depressed and we drink too much. At least that’s what the statistics show. It’s time for attorneys to have an honest conversation about the causes and solutions to these issues.
The causes of behavioral health problems are complicated and are generally influenced by a variety of factors. The high demands and serious consequences associated with the nature of our work certainly impact our stress levels. How we respond to stress, whether it’s drinking or working out, will naturally impact our health. Mentors and friends can be a positive influence under any circumstances. It is important to surround yourself with people who offer you support and guide you toward healthy choices.
A Johns Hopkins University study found that lawyers have the highest incidence of depression among professionals. Studies by the American Bar Association and the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry estimate that 15 to 25 percent of lawyers in the United States suffer from alcoholism or substance abuse. The national average of people with alcohol-use disorders is estimated at 9 percent. A study by the South Carolina Bar Association found that 50 to 75 percent of lawyer disciplinary cases nationwide involve chemical dependency.
Symptoms of depression may involve any of the following: loss of interest; change in appetite; change in sleep patterns; loss of energy; indecisiveness; recurrent thoughts of suicide; and suicide attempts.
Symptoms of alcohol abuse and dependence may include: being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink; drinking alone or secretly; experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as shaking and nausea when not drinking; blacking out; and keeping alcohol in your office or vehicle.
How do you know whether you have a substance abuse problem? The CAGE questionnaire was developed in 1970 by Dr. John Ewing as a screening tool to identify alcoholism. It can also be extended to shed light on drug addictions. Two or more “yes” answers to the following questions are indicative of substance abuse:
Cut Back. Have you ever felt the need to reduce the level of your consumption?
Annoyed. Have people ever annoyed you with their criticism of your drinking habits?
Guilty. Have you ever felt guilty while you were drinking?
Eye-Opener. Have you ever started the day with a drink to wake yourself up, relax or cure a hangover?
How can you make a difference? One way Denver attorneys can get help for themselves and others is by contacting the Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program (COLAP). COLAP is a confidential program created to help judges, lawyers and law students with professional and personal concerns including:
Stress and burn-out;
Alcohol and drug abuse;
Prescription drug concerns;
Marital and family relationships;
Career concerns; and
For confidential help from COLAP, phone 303-986-3345.
Whether or not you have a problem with depression or substance abuse, I hope this letter will raise awareness about the prevalence of these issues. Help is available.
Make yourself a priority. Make a difference! D