Younger lawyers more at risk for substance abuse, emotional problems: New US Study

09 February 2016

A new study released just prior to the 2016 American Bar Association's Midyear Meeting in San Diego has thrown up fresh insights into substance abuse and mental health problems in the US legal profession. The findings depart from earlier findings on two key points.

The study found levels of problem drinking in the legal profession that are apparently higher what had shown up in previous studies. Also,  younger lawyers comprise the segment of the profession at the highest risk of substance abuse and mental health problems. According to earlier studies older lawyers were more at risk for developing problems in both areas.

The study polled nearly 13,000 licensed and employed lawyers and judges across the US and was jointly conducted by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, based in Center City, Minnesota.

The participants took a 10-question Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, a tool developed by the World Health Organization that asks for objective and subjective information.

The study found that 20.6 per cent of the lawyers and judges surveyed reported problematic alcohol use, according to Patrick R Krill, director of the legal professionals programme at Hazelden Betty Ford and a co-author of the study.

However, when a variation of the questionnaire that focused on lawyers' alcohol consumption frequency was used, the percentage of problem drinkers was much higher, 36.4 per cent.

Additionally, 28 per cent of those in the legal profession suffered from depression and around 19 per cent exhibited symptoms of anxiety, as against the general American adult population, that had 6.8 per cent harmful drinking levels and only 8 per cent depression in a given year.

According to Krill, other studies had shown  that most lawyers were pessimists (either by nature or by training) which could be psychologically taxing and inconsistent with healthy coping skills.

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