The presence of employees with substance use disorders in the workplace is a serious issue. Over 77%* of illicit drug users are employed and the loss of productivity resulting from drug and alcohol abuse is significant. Alcoholism alone is responsible for 500 million lost work days** each year. “Alcohol and drugs know no social, economic or educational barriers, and legal professionals face unique stressors,” says leading Addiction Expert Dr. Indra Cidambi, Medical Director at the Center for Network Therapy. In fact, lawyers are almost twice as likely*** to struggle with alcohol abuse when compared to the general population.
“Lawyers start facing very heavy workloads and conflicts with their value systems right when they enter law school, and they may use alcohol or drugs to cope,” says Dr. Cidambi. “They also suffer from disproportionately higher rates of mental health issues, which may provide access to prescription medication that could be addictive.” As per a 2016 study**** more than 1 in 5 lawyers reported that they felt that their use of alcohol or other drugs was problematic at some point in their lives, and, of these, nearly 3 of 4 reported that their problematic use started after they joined law school.
It is evident from these statistics that people in the legal profession are at an elevated risk of experiencing substance use disorders. Consequently, they need to be proactive in reaching out and leaning on their support system before they feel overwhelmed and trapped.
Dr. Indra Cidambi discusses the primary factors that lead to substance abuse among lawyers and suggests actions they could take to prevent falling into the addiction trap:
Law School Tests Their Mettle
“For many students, the excitement of getting into law school ends when they start school,” says Dr. Cidambi. Excessive workloads and intense competition with like-minded perfectionists leads to long hours of study and creates an enormous amount of stress. Additionally, the emphasis on analysis makes many students lose their connection to their original reason for joining law school – passion for the law or helping people. “Students, therefore, turn to alcohol or drugs to relieve tension and relax,” adds Dr. Cidambi.
Work – Not As Noble Anymore
“In addition to creating conflicts with their own value system the pressure at work can be excruciating,” says Dr. Cidambi. “Lawyers are unique in that they are not only required to do the work long hours to satisfy existing clients, but also generate new business, and they find themselves working constantly in order to climb the corporate ladder and be named a partner in a law firm,” adds Dr. Cidambi. “This work schedule oftentimes ruptures relations at home, leaving them with no one to turn to.” In such circumstances, lawyers may lean on alcohol or drugs for support.
Lawyers More Prone to Mental Health Issues
As per AmericanBar.org, many law students show signs of depression, anxiety, hostility and paranoia within 6 months of entering law school. After the first year of law school, 40% of law students suffer from depression which persists through law school and their careers. “Practicing lawyers find that they have to compromise their ethical principles or moral values, which creates a conflict in them,” says Dr. Cidambi. “They may also have to take and defend positions that are contrary to their belief system.” As per a 2016 study**** 6 of 10 participants reported anxiety, 1 of 2 reported depression, and nearly 1 in 8 reported ADHD. In addition, 1 in 9 reported suicidal thoughts at some point during their career. This leads them to either attempt to self-medicate using alcohol or drugs or provides them access to addictive medications through the medical system.
How Can lawyers Cope?
Achieving work-life balance is easier said than done for people in the legal profession, especially junior lawyers, as they have no control over their work schedules. In addition, debt accumulated during law school hangs over their head, allowing them little leeway while making career decisions. “However, these young lawyers have to recognize that their well-being is tied to staying physically and mentally healthy,” says Dr. Cidambi. “If you feel the demands at work are overwhelming, talk to your boss or mentor and let him/her know that you are unable to cope with the workload and enlist their support.” This is the most effective step one can take as the conversation will be with the person who directly controls the workload. Most employers want a healthy employee and will help address concerns. You should also be able to open up to one family member or friend who will be able to advise you as an outsider. This will help relieve stress and serve as a support system. “If you are already in a bad situation and are abusing substances to cope, you should schedule a substance abuse evaluation with a counselor.”
For more information on substance abuse dependency, addiction and treatment, please go to http://www.recoveryCNT.com.
About Dr. Indra Cidambi
Indra Cidambi, M.D., Medical Director, Center for Network Therapy, is recognized as a leading expert and pioneer in the field of Addiction Medicine. Under her leadership the Center for Network Therapy started New Jersey’s first state licensed Ambulatory (Outpatient) Detoxification program for all substances four years ago. Dr. Cidambi is the Vice President of the New Jersey Society of Addiction Medicine and is Board Certified in General Psychiatry and double Board Certified in Addiction Medicine (ABAM, ABPN). Dr. Cidambi is fluent in five languages, including Russian.
About Center for Network Therapy
Center for Network Therapy (CNT) was the first facility in New Jersey to be licensed to provide Ambulatory (Outpatient) Detoxification Services for all substances of abuse – alcohol, benzodiazepines and opiates. Led by a Board Certified Addiction Psychiatrist, Indra Cidambi, M.D., experienced physicians and nurses closely monitor each patient’s progress. With CNT’s superior client care and high quality treatment, Dr. Cidambi and her clinical team have successfully detoxed over 1,000 patients in four years.
This piece first appeared on ‘Benzinga’ July 17 2017.