Substance Abuse and Other Addictions

in the Legal Profession

(condensed from the MO Bar publication)

Substance Abuse Is a Big Problem

According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (or NCADD), alcohol is the most often used addictive substance. One in 12 adults faces an alcohol concern; several million more engage in risky drinking. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports an 8.8% rate of substance use disorders in the US. Alcoholism ranks as the 3rd leading lifestyle related cause of death in the United States.

The NCADD estimated that 20 million Americans used an illegal substance in the past month. Illicit drugs include substances like marijuana, hashish, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and so forth. The NCADD also estimated that of the total overall costs of substance abuse in the US exceed $600 billion per year.

In the legal profession, attorneys have above average rates of substance concerns, depression and suicide. Alcohol continues to be the most frequent problem chemical for legal professionals. Approximately 40-70% of attorney discipline proceedings and malpractice allegations are linked to alcohol abuse or mental illness.

Early professional warning signals of substance abuse for lawyers include unreturned phone calls, being late for depositions, cancelled appointments, numerous sick days or client neglect. Late stage concerns include failure to come to the office or appear for hearings, appearing intoxicated or under the influence in court, unprofessional appearance or hygiene, inappropriate mood and abandonment of one’s practice.

Recovery reduces claim and disciplinary complaints.

An Oregon study confirmed lawyers in recovery have low claim rates.

5 years before sobriety                                            5 years after sobriety

Malpractice claims – 83                                            Malpractice claims – 21

Disciplinary complaints – 76                                    Disciplinary complaints – 20

During that time frame, average complaint rate for attorneys in the state was 9%. The attorneys had an annual complaint rate of 28% before sobriety and 7% after. The malpractice claim rate for attorneys in the state was 13.5%. The rate of malpractice claims was 30% before sobriety, and 8% in recovery.

Lawyer Assistance Programs Offer Help

Almost every state in the US has a Lawyer Assistance Program. Lawyer Assistance Programs are broad brush programs to assist attorneys with a variety of matters such as substance concerns, mental health concerns, stress management, coping with grief, adapting to life changes and other personal concerns. Check out your state’s program for specifics. Substance concerns are one of the most common concerns lawyers assistance programs help attorneys address. Do not delay if you or someone in your office is in need of assistance. Seek help.