Lawyers and Addiction

Lawyers experience substance use and mental health disorders at higher rates than the average population. Specialized rehab treatment services are available to help lawyers get their lives and careers back on track.
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From the first day of law school, aspiring attorneys face immense pressure. The demands of the profession create high levels of stress and anxiety that can lead to substance abuse and mental health concerns.

A 2016 study by the American Bar Association found that 20.6 percent of lawyers reported problematic drinking. Other studies cited by the Canadian Bar Association show that the rate of alcohol addiction among lawyers is between 15 and 24 percent.

Alcohol accounts for nearly 95 percent of substance use disorders among attorneys. About one in every three lawyers is a problem drinker, and one in every five has an alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol accounts for nearly 95 percent of substance use disorders among attorneys. About one in every three lawyers is a problem drinker, and one in every five has an alcohol use disorder.

Many lawyers struggle with prescription and illicit drugs as well. They often use drugs such as cocaine, OxyContin and Valium as a way to gain a competitive edge or cope with stress or mental health disorders.

It is common for lawyers with substance use disorders to sacrifice their own well-being in order to reach work goals. Social and family relationships also may suffer.

Lawyers tend to possess the ability to dominate conversations, meetings and relationships. They are often skilled at diverting attention away from themselves, which can exacerbate their substance use disorder and make it more difficult for loved ones to convince them to get help.

For attorneys struggling with a substance use disorder, there are ways to overcome this disease and save your career. Many rehab treatment facilities offer specialized treatment programs that cater to professionals with high-demand occupations.

Lawyers at risk of substance abuse

Why are lawyers at risk for substance abuse?

The legal profession creates an environment where it is easy to develop a substance use disorder. The responsibilities of the job can also cause a number of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. The combination of these factors can lead to further substance abuse.

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Work Environment

Multiple international studies have found that workplace culture plays a crucial role in an employee’s likelihood to abuse substances. The legal profession commonly accepts drinking alcohol in the workplace as a way to socialize, facilitate business and celebrate professional victories. These behaviors make lawyers more prone to drinking problems.

Wichita State University researchers conducted a study that measured drinking tied to the workplace and found that 66 percent of attorneys reported work-related drinking. Another study by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry in London found that 77 percent of attorneys with self-reported alcohol problems reported drinking alcohol during lunch.


Stress is regarded as a major factor in the development of substance addiction, according to studies by researchers at Yale University, Scripps Research Institute and other academic institutions. Lawyers and law students alike experience high levels of stress and face increased risks of developing a substance use disorder as a result.

Nearly 44 percent of attorneys with alcohol use disorders say that problematic drinking began within the first 15 years of practicing law, which suggests that the early stages of a legal career are often associated with a higher risk of developing an alcohol addiction.

Source: American Bar Association

The workload and time commitments the legal field requires can put immense pressure on individuals. A career in law is characterized by long work hours, unpredictability, heavy workloads and challenging time constraints — all of which contribute to an attorney’s stress levels. On top of that, the pressure to win a case can take a large emotional toll on a lawyer, which can lead to substance abuse.

Problems with drinking usually develop early in an attorney’s career, according to the American Bar Association. Nearly 44 percent of attorneys with alcohol use disorders say that problematic drinking began within the first 15 years of practicing law, which suggests that the early stages of a legal career are often associated with a higher risk of developing an alcohol addiction. Some lawyers first developed substance use disorders in law school or shortly after.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is inextricably linked to substance abuse. According to researchers at Brunel University, attorneys in the public sector have higher rates of PTSD than the general population. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease found that 11 percent of criminal litigation attorneys met the criteria for PTSD.

Attorneys also experience higher levels of secondary traumatic stress (STS). Lawyers are often required to learn intimate details of a client’s trauma history, which can lead to the development of this disorder. STS mimic’s symptoms of PTSD and can cause social avoidance, disturbed sleep and other disruptive symptoms. Nearly 34 percent of criminal litigation attorneys experienced STS, according to the 2011 study.

Other Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

In addition to PTSD and STS, attorneys with substance use disorders are more likely to have other co-occurring mental health disorders. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease study examined occupations in a recovery center with a specialized treatment program for professionals and found that 60 percent of attorneys had co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders.

Depression is the most common mental health disorder that affects attorneys and law school students. Nearly 40 percent of criminal litigation attorneys and law school students suffer from depression.

These mental health disorders include:
32%had major depression
14.6%had bipolar disorder
13.4%had an anxiety disorder

Law School

The foundation of a substance use disorder is often laid during law school. Stress from the Socratic method, grades and exams is extremely common and can lead to a number of conditions that may contribute to the development of a substance use disorder.

Law school students are often pitted against each other in this competitive field. Students may isolate themselves to gain a competitive edge over their peers. This can lead to depression, anxiety and mental health disorders that can contribute to substance abuse as well.

Preventing Substance Abuse Among Lawyers

There are steps that can be taken to reduce substance abuse for attorneys and law firms alike. Proactively addressing concerns regarding addiction is crucial and can prevent lawyers from further substance abuse issues.

Reducing Stress

Stress is a common element in substance abuse and leaves attorneys vulnerable to developing mental health disorders. Properly training attorneys to manage their time and clients can greatly reduce stress levels. Attorneys with severe stress can seek peer support and counseling to help them cope. Reducing the number of hours spent working can also greatly reduce stress.

Changing Workplace Policies and Attitudes Toward Drinking

The workplace for lawyers often fosters an environment that promotes substance abuse, especially with alcohol. A 2016 study by the American Bar Association found that young attorneys are most at risk of developing a problem with alcohol abuse. The study reported that 31.9 percent of lawyers 30 or younger engaged in problematic drinking. Junior associates were most at risk of any age group, with 31.1 percent engaging in problematic drinking.

Law firms can combat this issue by creating formal policies meant to responsibly manage substance use in the workplace, according to the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease study. The same study showed that team-based interventions to prevent permissive attitudes toward workplace substance abuse can effectively prevent alcohol abuse among employees.

Focusing on Mental Health and Well-Being

Effectively addressing mental health disorders that stem from a lawyer’s professional responsibilities is key to preventing substance use disorders.

Rather than addressing concerns about stress or other work-related issues— which can lead to mental health disorders — as they arise, lawyers tend to ignore them and continue to focus on keeping up with their workload. Because this can exacerbate mental health disorders, being proactive in seeking treatment is critical to ensuring mental well-being.

Lawyer Assistance Programs

Each state and the District of Columbia provide lawyer assistance programs (LAPs) that assist lawyers with crises such as substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders. In addition to substance abuse and mental health, LAPs offer support for stress management, fatigue, compulsive behaviors, recovery and more. LAP services are free and confidential and give lawyers a source of support during difficult times.

Rehab Treatment of Attorneys

Treatment options are available for attorneys who want to get help with substance use disorders. Specialized treatment programs offer attorneys and professionals a chance to reach recovery and continue practicing law.

Rehab facilities offering specialized programs can work with attorneys to create individualized plans that offer the best chance to reach recovery while taking into account the special circumstances of the occupation. If you are struggling with substance abuse, seeking treatment is the next step to getting your life and your job back on track.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Trey Dyer
Content Writer,
Trey Dyer is a writer for and an advocate for substance abuse treatment. Trey is passionate about sharing his knowledge and tales about his own family’s struggle with drug addiction to help others overcome the challenges that face substance dependent individuals and their families. Trey has a degree in journalism from American University and has been writing professionally since 2011.

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