Hazelden

lawyers-drinking-copy-1024x676-702x463Groundbreaking Study Confirms Up to 33% of Lawyers Suffer Alcohol Abuse Disorder

I was debating the title to this post — “Study Confirms Lawyers Booze Too Much” … “Lawyers Drink Even More Than Doctors” … “Your Lawyer May Be An Alcoholic.” But seriously, this is a very important study on problem drinking in the legal profession conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association. The study confirms what many of us already know — lawyers drink wayyyyy to much and many of them wind up with alcohol problems.

To quickly recap, The ABA-Hazelden study surveyed 15,000 lawyers across 19 states. The study reveals that between 21% and 36% of attorneys drink at levels consistent with an alcohol use disorder, otherwise known as alcoholism. For comparison, those numbers are roughly 3-5 times higher than alcohol use disorders in the general population. Moreover, 28% of the respondents reported experiencing symptoms of depression, 19% of anxiety, and 23% of stress. Worse, attorneys drink twice as much as doctors!

I think the more important question, however, is the why. The study did not set out to answer that question, but I can give you some of my theories, as I’ve discussed here on the blog:

  • The legal profession has a long and proud tradition of drinking to excess. Check out any local watering hole next to a courthouse around 1pm. Law schools are even worse. Every social event revolved around drinking copious amounts of booze.
  • Legal “marketing” events are filled with booze. At one of my former firms, we had beer and wine in the office every Thursday afternoon. At marketing events, we had Mexican (i.e, tequila) events, wine tastings, professional sporting events (beer), and of course the booze filled “holiday” parties.
  • Attorneys often have Type A driven, super-competitive personality types. These personality types are more prone to addictive behaviors.
  • Lawyers are over-analytical and linear in thinking. These traits, while valued in the profession, are impediments in recovery from addiction. We often think we can out-think and out-smart this disease. The problem is that addition is your evil twin, always smarter than you and one step ahead. Attorneys are also notoriously bad at asking for help. That is a sign of weakness which must be avoided at all costs. Lawyers are strong, not weak.
  • The practice of law is incredibly stressful and anxiety ridden. Have you ever prepared for and conducted a jury trial? Aside from combat, it’s probably one of the most stressful things anyone can do. Whether you win or you lose, after that trial, you might as well hook up an IV with booze to alleviate the stress.
  • Much of the actual practice of law, especially litigation, is out of the attorney’s control and attorneys are control freaks. It has taken me a long, long time to get to the point where I “do my best and forget the rest” — meaning that I have no control over what the judge or jury does on any given case. Shit, sometimes I can’t even control my client. Letting go as a control freak attorney is nearly impossible. This can lead to drinking too much.
  • Much of law is adversarial rather than collaborative which does not make for warm and fuzzy feelings. See, e.g, divorce attorneys. Lawyers are often called upon to deal with people’s most stressful life situations, and this can wear on the attorney. It’s hard not to take your client’s situation to heart. It can grind on you.
  • The big law firm hierarchy and model is like a dysfunctional fraternity (oxymoron intended). The first couple of years as a junior associate is not unlike pledging a frat. The older brothers (i.e, the partners) shit all over you. You have “hell week” not once per semester, but every other week. You are pasty white and hardly get to see the sun and outdoors. The only difference between a frat pledge and a junior associate is the associate gets paid to be miserable. I’d rather be pledging my fraternity again. At least I would be young and skinny again….
  • Lawyers are assholes, and if your boss is an asshole, it can drive you to drink. A lot. See, supra.

Ok, now that we have some hard statistics on lawyers and alcohol addiction, what can we do about the problem? Here are some of my ideas.

  • I think the most important thing we lawyers can do is try to get rid of the stigma behind seeking help for our problems. This goes for not only addiction, but stress reduction, depression and anxiety. It should be part of how we lawyers stay healthy. We brag about how we do spin class, cross-fit and boxing. Keeping the mind/brain healthy is even more important to attorneys.
  • Bring in attorneys in recovery to speak to lawyers. There are many out there who are not anonymous and are more than happy to speak to firms. Brian Cuban (the brother of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban) is a good example.
  • Firms should have an in-house therapist/counselor. Don’t refer people to employee assistance or outside help. Make associates meet with the counselor on a bi-weekly or monthly basis, regardless of whether they have any issues. I’m not kidding. And I’m not just talking about addiction. Twenty-eight percent of the ABA/Hazelden respondents reported experiencing symptoms of depression, 19% of anxiety, and 23% of stress. People are sick with stress in the hallways of law firms. Have you watched the new show Billions on Showtime? Axe Capital has an in-house psychologist, and she counsels all the stressed out bankers. Why couldn’t that be done at law firms? It could easily.
  • Ease up on the boozy events. Instead of the wine tasting event, how about indoor rock climbing? Not every event needs to be centered on drinking.

Readers, what are your thoughts on the study and some solutions?

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When I was at Hazelden, each morning the unit rose at 6:30AM, gathered together and read passages from the Hazelden Twenty Four Hours A Day Book. (There’s even an Iphone app for it!).

Every morning, we read the passage from January 6th. I call this the “daily look in the mirror” passage, and for me it’s so important that I say this every day.

Keeping sober is the most important thing in my life. The most important decision I ever made was my decision to give up drinking. I am convinced that my whole life depends on not taking that first drink. Nothing in the world is as important to me as my own sobriety. Everything I have, my whole life, depends on that one thing. Can I afford ever to forget this, even for one minute?

The answer is and should always be, No!

I know that everything good in my life will flow from my sobriety: my family life, my career, my health, my finances, my friendships, everything. That’s why being sober is the most important thing in my life. But I have to remind myself of this every day, because if I don’t, I will be one step closer to having that first drink.

One day at a time…

~Dick

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“One foot in, for those left out…right foot here for us. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. So be it!”

My peers and I at the Hazelden Treatment Center said this variation of the Serenity Prayer many times a day after every group activity. My unit at Hazelden was called Silkworth, named after the pioneering Dr. William D. Silkworth. Dr. Silkworth had a profound influence on Alcoholics Anonymous, writing the oft quoted “Doctors Opinion” in the AA “Big Book.” Famous Silkworth alumni include Eric Clapton, who as the legend goes, swam across the nearby lake, to get loaded at a local bar. Ironically, he later donated funds for the new Hazelden swimming pool.

I attended the 30 day in-patient program at Hazelden in Center City, MN, specifically because they started a program dedicated to assisting attorneys with addiction. It was one of the best, yet most challenging, experiences of my life.

Hazelden is the antithesis of fluffy rehabs like Promises or Passages. Lindsay Lohan was denied admission, apparently. While the campus grounds in rural lake country of Minnesota are beautiful, the men’s housing units are still 60’s era and drab. (The women’s units are newly renovated and gorgeous though). Every morning starts at 6:30AM with prayer and meditation. There are three lectures a day, plus group meetings, counseling, fitness, required reading, lectures, workshops and much more. You have mandatory work detail on the unit. Simply, you go to Hazelden to recover, not relax.

The beginning was rough with being homesick, drunk dreams and getting used to bunking with 4 other guys. But I quickly made close bonds with my roommates and other peers and embraced the program. The camaraderie actually reminded me of my college fraternity days, minus the keg parties. I had a ton of great talks with guys while throwing the football, playing horseshoes and just hanging on the patio overlooking the gorgeous lake views.

The lectures were top-notch, educating patients on the latest research and thinking on the disease and neuro-pyschology of addiction, as well as the ever important emotional piece based on the 12 steps. The evening lecture is always a talk from an alumni of the program who shares his or her moving experience, strength and hope. Incredibly inspiring stories…

There is also relaxation, yoga and meditation classes which were awesome. Looking over from my yoga mat and watching 25 alcoholics and drug addicts of various shapes and sizes lying down in a room together practicing visualization and relaxation techniques was pretty hilarious. Hazelden has also opened a brand new Feng Shui inspired meditation room (pic above) in which I spent a lot of time reading and writing.

Hazelden puts a heavy emphasis on 12 Step principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. With signs bearing familiar AA slogans such as “One Day At A Time” and “Easy Does It” greeting new patients on the road into the campus, I like to call Hazelden AA on steriods. There were several AA step meetings during the week, and you could take a weekly field trip to an AA meeting in the small nearby town of St. Croix Falls, WI. The best part through was stopping at Dairy Queen on the way back to Hazelden! We went through the first 5 steps, and I did a 4th and 5th step inventory with the spiritual counselor which was extremely cathartic.

Hazelden also has an amazing family program. Unlike most family programs, the patient and her family do not go through the same program together. Instead, the patient and his family participates with other family members and other patients. It’s really effective because the other patients teach the family members (without the risk of strangulation!) and vice-versa. The family learned critical aspects of the disease concept and Al-Anon principles such as “detachment with love.”

The most powerful part of my Hazelden program, however, was the peer group. Each unit has their own peer group traditions, and Silkworth is reputedly the most intense. In Silkworth, each patient must sit in a red chair — the hot seat — and tell his story in front of the group. Every peer would then evaluate the speaker on their strengths and blocks to recovery and write them a personal letter. The speaker would have to write the same evaluation and letter to himself. Weaknesses includes minimizing, lack of self-control, over-intellectualization, grandiosity, doesn’t ask for help, judgmental, etc. During the peer evaluation, each peer reads their evaluation and letter to the speaker who sits in the red chair. And then the speaker would read his letter. Basically, if you were full of it, your peers would tell you with brutal honesty. Some of the evaluations were an amazing thing to watch. Guys would completely break down and that’s where the real recovery would start. Some guys would also have to read heart-wrenching letters from their families in front of the group. Again, if you want to relax and skate through treatment and you think you are better or superior to everyone else, Hazelden is not the place for you.

For many recovering addicts, this was the first time they were ever 100% honest with anyone about their addiction and past. There’s a saying that “you’re only as sick as the secrets you keep.”

I often read the letter I wrote myself, and I have all my evaluations which I read from time to time. I’ll post a few on the blog later. They were dead on, of course. I over-thought and over-analyzed things. I lacked humility. I had a superiority-inferiority complex. I was too smart for my own good. I could convince myself that I could drink again. I didn’t ask for help. I was too compulsive. And that was just for starters!

For me, it was the first time I have ever really asked others for help. And I needed (and still need) a lot of help. I made close bonds with many of the guys in my unit. We shared our darkest secrets and our hopes. We still email and talk to this day.

Despite all the emotional upheaval and hard work, Hazelden was the first time in a long time that I laughed that uncontrollable belly laugh….watching the movie Old School with the guys and eating pizza of all things. I could not stop laughing at the scene where Will Farrell got shot with a tranquilizer gun….I guess I was feeling a lot better about things.

Well, that’s it for now.

One day at a time…

~Dick

 

 

 

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