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The Legal Profession’s Greatest Nemesis: Alcohol, Drugs, and Depression

Although attorneys zealously represent their clients in difficult situations every day, but who helps attorneys if they’re in a difficult situation? Recently, a well known attorney in Silicon Valley overdosed on pharmaceutical drugs to the surprise of his co-workers, family, and friends, prompting concerns of drug and alcohol abuse among attorneys.[1]

The general prevalence of substance abuse is becoming a serious professional and social problem among lawyers. “In recent years we’re seeing a significant rate of increase specifically among attorneys using prescription medications that become a gateway to street drugs,” stated Warren Zysman, the former chief executive of the Addiction Care Interventions Center, a rehabilitation center for professionals in Manhattan.[2] A 2016 report in the Journal of Addiction Medicine revealed the widespread danger of substance abuse and other mental health issues among attorneys, finding a positive association between, “the increased prevalence of problematic drinking and an increased amount of years spent in the profession.”[3]

Some studies have found that law students are healthier – both physically and mentally – before starting law school, but that school tends to diminish both health and a student’s sense of self and internal values.[4] As soon as law school ends, bar preparation begins, and then most lawyers go immediately into the work force. Most of the bad habits and lifestyle choices adopted early are then carried into professional life.[5] These findings are not news, however, since lawyers have historically been plagued with high rates of alcohol abuse, depression, and suicide.[6] It doesn’t help that being a lawyer is further complicated with the fact that lawyers are often perceived as evil, or the bad guys.[7]

In response, many professional rehabilitation centers have been created in the past few years to help combat these issues, but are not as effective since lawyers don’t tend to disclose their substance abuse problems.[8] Statistics for alcohol abuse are generally accurate — because alcohol is socially accepted, and legal — but statistics for drug abuse and depression are not representative of the lawyers currently suffering from these issues.[9]

Until lawyers begin to seek professional help, these problems will continue to lay under the surface and plague the legal profession, while cases like the overdose of the Silicon Valley attorney will continue to surprise and devastate families. To fight these problems law students and attorneys alike must be willing to discuss these issues and work to prevent substance abuse and depression, while firm partners and professors must work toward recognizing the importance of preserving mental health.

[1] Eilene Zimmerman, The Lawyer, the Addict, The N.Y. Times,

[2] Id.

[3] Patrick Krill, The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys, 10 Journal of Addiction Medicine 46, 46-52  (2016).

[4] See Lawrence S. Krieger, What Makes Lawyers Happy?: A Data-Driver Prescription to Redefine Professional Success, 83 George Washington Law Review 554 (2015) (highlighting statistics information on substance abuse among attorneys).

[5] See also, Rosa Flores and Rose Marie Arce, Why are lawyers killing themselves?, CNN (January 20, 2014), (discussing the suicide rates among lawyers and the psychological problems prevalent in the legal profession).

[6] Elizabeth Olson, High Rate of Problem Drinking Reported Among Lawyers, The N.Y. Times (February 4, 2016),

[7] Staci Zaretsky, Lawyers: The Most Despised Profession in America, Above the Law (July 15, 2017),

[8] Supra note 1, Zimmerman.

[9] Id.