- - Monday, September 28, 2015

While less than 10 percent of the general population struggles with drug abuse or alcohol addiction, close to 20 percent of lawyers abuse drugs or alcohol, putting their clients at risk of ultimately suffering the consequences.

In fact, over 25 percent of lawyers who have faced disciplinary actions have been found to be drug or alcohol abusers, many of whom compromised their clients cases through incidences of neglect, malpractice and phantom settlements.

But, while these statistics are extremely alarming, it is still unclear whether substance abusers and alcoholics are attracted to the legal profession or whether the legal profession causes people to become substance abusers and alcoholics.

Like the age-old question about whether the chicken or the egg came first, scholars have argued both sides of this issue.

On one hand, it has been argued that the long hours and the competitive pressure placed on those in the legal community increases their risk to abuse drugs and alcohol.

This theory has been supported with the fact that the average lawyer works 60 to 80 hours per week, which makes them three times as likely to become an addict than those who work under 50 hours per week.

However, on the other hand, mental health issues have been shown to be extremely prevalent within the legal community and have also been argued to be a cause of the nearly 20 percent rate of substance abuse and alcoholism, with 20 percent of attorneys suffering specifically from depression as compared to the national average of only 6.5 percent.

But regardless of the cause of the near 20 percent statistic, why hasn’t more been done to put a screeching halt to this epidemic?

Could the lawyers themselves actually be contributing to the epidemic?

Could the American Bar Association be doing more?

While American attorneys are clearly bright individuals, close to three-quarters of them actually convince themselves that they can handle their addiction problems on their own, and an additional 40 percent of lawyers refuse to get treatment due to the fear that it could negatively impact their reputation among their peers and possibly hurt, if not ruin their careers.

And, while the American Bar Association has claimed that their lawyer assistance program initiative helps those in that are suffering with alcoholism or substance abuse problems, the statistics have remained unchanged.

Enough has simply not been done.

Wake up, American Bar Association. It is time to stop this widespread epidemic and implement programs that actually work, helping suffering lawyers to come forward and address their addiction problems.

• Madison Gesiotto is a staff editor for the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law.

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