In 2016, Caron Treatment Centers started a residential treatment program for lawyers and others in the legal profession, including paralegals, law students, judges and former lawyers.
As many as 500,000 practicing lawyers are problem drinkers and nearly as many suffer depression, according to a Hazelden Betty Ford and American Bar Association study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine in 2016.
“Lawyers have the highest rate of addiction of all professionals,” said Link Christin, executive director of the Legal Professionals Program at Caron Treatment Centers in South Heidelberg Township, known as the Wernersville campus.
“They are problematic drinkers at two to four times the level of all other professions,” Christin said.
The study found that 36.4 percent of the 13,000 lawyers it surveyed, or more than 3.5 out of 10, could be characterized as hazardous drinkers, and they have four times the rate of depression.
“It is a profession where the lawyers are more susceptible to addiction and mental health disorders. And that’s coupled with a reluctance of lawyers to ask for help when they have these problems,” said Christin, who writes and speaks on the topic to try to heighten awareness of the substance abuse and mental health concerns within the legal profession.
Christin, who offers a continuing education credit course for lawyers and human resources professionals on the subject, called the problem “a full-blown crisis that cannot be ignored.”
The legal profession is steeped in tradition of alcohol, where lawyers used to keep liquor in their office and have a drink at lunch or dinner with clients. Alcohol is often a part of every social occasion.
Although alcohol has been the drug of choice in the legal profession, Christin said, he is seeing more lawyers being treated at Caron for substance use problems, including opioids, meth, heroin, even Adderall, a medication prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder that some started taking in law school to help with concentration.
LAW FIRM REFERRAL
A study by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation found outcomes were better for lawyers who went to programs that had a treatment track for lawyers.
Christin, who meets one-on-one with every lawyer for an hour once a week, helps the lawyer identify his or her career issues and how they tie into the addiction.
Sometimes law firms refer one of their lawyers for treatment at Caron and pay for it.
“They don’t want to let them go; they want them to get help,” he said.
WON’T ADMIT THE PROBLEM
Christin conducts a lot of pre-entry consultation with law firms, lawyers and their spouses to decide if they need treatment.
“I often end up on the phone with the lawyer who commonly thinks there’s no way they can be gone for 28 days; there’s no way the world will keep spinning,” he said.
Many don’t think they have an addiction problem.
“Lawyers are particularly good at denial,” Christin said.
Christin said he knows the problem firsthand.
A former civil trial lawyer for more than 25 years and former partner at two law firms in Pittsburgh, Christin said he was a high-functioning alcoholic who thought his drinking was under control.
“I drank at night and drank too much. But I never missed anything, ever. Never missed a deadline. Never missed a court date. So I thought I was fine for the better part of 25 years,” he said.
“Within a fairly short period of time, because it’s a disease that progresses, it gets worse unless it’s treated.”
At age 50, Christin’s life fell apart.
“All of a sudden I found myself drinking during the middle of the day. I found myself having blackouts,” he said.
Blackouts, which happen in later-stage alcoholism, are not the same as passing out.
Rather, an individual is awake and functioning during a blackout, but has no memory of it later.
ONE OF THE FIRST
Within two weeks, Christin’s wife asked him for a divorce, he got fired and arrested and totaled his car.
Christin asked a friend for help, a lawyer who had been sober for a long time. By the next morning, Christin was enrolled in a treatment program.
Christin got sober and then earned a master’s degree in addiction counseling from the Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction Studies, where seven years ago he started one of the first treatment programs for lawyers.
While there are no studies on why addiction rates are high among lawyers, Christin believes they have personality traits, such as a strong competitive drive, ego and a sense they can solve their own problems, coupled with the intense pressures and stresses of the legal profession, that make them vulnerable to addiction.
Lawyers are most at risk of developing substance abuse problems in the first 10 years of their careers, according to a study.
“The job has to come first,” Christin said. “They do not have a work-life balance, so that results in medicating through alcohol or drugs to take the edge off or just helping them survive the massive amounts of pressure and hours.”