Substance Use Disorder Statistics for Lawyers and Attorneys

Substance use disorder is a major concern within the legal profession. Attorneys face immense pressure, long hours, and demanding clients that create a high-stress environment, leading to drug abuse. Here are some key statistics on substance abuse and alcohol use within this industry.


  • 84.1% of around 13,000 lawyers and attorneys surveyed in 2016 reported alcohol intake in the past year. Tobacco, sedatives, and marijuana were also among the commonly used substances.
  • A 2014 study of over 3300 law students revealed alarming rates of depression (17%), anxiety (37%), binge drinking (43%), and illicit drug use (35%).
  • Heavy workload contributes significantly to reproductive dysfunction, stress, substance abuse, and mental health issues among lawyers, as reported by the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Commission on Women in the Professions.
  • ALM surveys found high rates of depression (86%), anxiety (93%), and drug abuse (48%) in law firms and identified stress and workload as the primary causes.
  • 41% of lawyers and attorneys believe mental health and substance abuse are at a crisis level in the legal industry, according to a 2020 ALM survey.
  • Lawyers feeling extremely burned out are nearly five times more likely to have drug abuse issues, while less engaged lawyers are over three times more likely to have such problems.
  • Younger lawyers and males exhibit higher rates of problematic drinking. 32% of lawyers under 30 showed problem drinking patterns, according to a nationwide survey in 2016.

Substance Use Among Lawyers and Attorneys

Substance use disorder among lawyers and attorneys is a pressing concern. Many law students, licensed lawyers and attorneys, and other law professionals turn to alcohol, drugs, and prescription medications to cope with the intense nature of the job. 

  • Over 84% of lawyers and attorneys surveyed by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the ABA in 2016 reported alcohol intake in the past 12 months. Other commonly used substances in the surveyed population were tobacco, sedatives, and marijuana. 
Substance Abuse Among lawyers
  • The findings of a 2014 study surveying over 3300 students from 15 law schools revealed:
  1. 17% of respondents screened positive for depression
  2. 37% screened positive for anxiety 
  3. 43% reported binge drinking at least once in the preceding two weeks 
  4. 25% were deemed at risk for alcoholism
  5. 35% admitted to using illicit street drugs or prescription medications without a prescription
  • ABA’s Commission on Women in the Professions states that heavy workload is the major contributor to the disproportionately high rates of reproductive dysfunction, stress, substance abuse, and mental health issues among lawyers.
  • An ALM survey conducted in 2018 surveyed 200 law firms and found:
  1. 86% of lawyers agreed that depression exists at their firm
  2. 93% of lawyers agreed that anxiety occurs at their firm
  3. 48% of lawyers agreed that drug abuse occurs at their firm 
  • In the same survey, 79% of respondents identified “stress and workload” as the principal cause of substance abuse and mental health issues within the law firm environment. 
  • A more recent ALM survey conducted in 2020 shows that 41% of lawyers and attorneys believe that mental health and substance abuse are at a crisis level in the legal industry.
  • According to 2022 research, law professionals who feel extremely burned out are almost five times more likely to have drug abuse issues compared to those who feel less burned out. 
  • The same research found that lawyers who are less engaged in their work are over three times more likely to have drug abuse problems compared to those who are highly engaged. 

Alcohol Addiction Among Lawyers and Attorneys

Alcohol addiction is also highly prevalent among lawyers and attorneys. Here are the key statistics: 

  • Research conducted in Washington state in 1990 revealed that 18% of lawyers were “problem drinkers,” a rate approximately double the alcohol abuse or dependency rates observed among adults in the United States.
  • According to a University of Arizona survey, 70% of lawyers are likely to encounter alcohol problems throughout their lifetime. This is more than five times higher than the 13.7% lifetime prevalence rate of alcohol abuse or dependence observed in the general population.
  • In a 2016 survey conducted by the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, 20.6% of the 12,825 licensed and employed attorneys screened positive for hazardous and harmful alcohol-dependent drinking.
  • Younger individuals and those with less experience in the field exhibited a higher proportion of positive screens for problematic drinking. The study revealed that 31.9% of lawyers under the age of 30 exhibit patterns of problem drinking.
The relationship between age and alcohol drinking in lawyers
  • Male lawyers report a much higher incidence of problematic drinking—at 25.1%—than females (15.5%).
  • The work environment has a substantial impact on the likelihood of alcohol addiction. Bar administration or private firm attorneys are more likely to be problematic drinkers than in-house attorneys. 
work environment and alcohol drinking in lawyers
  • Younger professionals are more likely to drink than senior ones, as per a 2016 study. 
  • Roughly half of the lawyers surveyed in a nationwide survey indicated that their drinking problems started within the initial 15 years of their career or their time spent in law school.
work experience and alcohol drinking in lawyers

Effects of Substance Abuse

The effects of substance use are profound, both on individuals and the profession as a whole. Many lawyers report signs of mental distress, anxiety, depression, and self-harming behaviors following their addictive episodes. In addition, several disciplinary cases against licensed lawyers and attorneys have been initiated due to alcoholism.

  • 11.5% of the lawyers surveyed by the ABA in 2016 acknowledged experiencing suicidal thoughts at some stage in their career, while 2.9% admitted to engaging in self-injurious behaviors. 0.7% disclosed having made at least one previous suicide attempt.
  • The survey found that at least 25% of attorneys experienced symptoms of depression, anxiety, or stress.
  • Among lawyers and attorneys screened for alcohol and substance use in a 2016 survey funded by the ABA, many reported mental health disorders at some point in their careers. The most common disorders included the following:
mental health disorders in lawyers
  • The ABA’s Path to Lawyer Well-Being report states that between 40% and 70% of disciplinary proceedings and malpractice claims against lawyers involve issues related to substance use, depression, or both. 
  • A survey conducted by the ABA in New York and California found that 50 to 70% of all disciplinary cases involved alcoholism. Similar percentages were reported in other states, such as Illinois and Indiana.

Substance Use Treatment Statistics Among Lawyers and Attorneys

The treatment rates for substance use disorder among lawyers are not high. Several factors contribute to the poor treatment rates, including reluctance to seek help, social stigma, and privacy concerns. 

  • According to a 2018 ALM survey: 
  1. 81% of lawyers believe a stigma exists against people with depression
  2. 75% of lawyers believe a stigma exists against people with anxiety 
  3. 94% of lawyers believe a stigma exists against people with alcohol and drug addiction
  • In a 2016 ABA survey, only 6.8% of the participants disclosed a history of alcohol or drug use treatment, with 21.8% indicating they utilized treatment programs specifically designed for legal professionals.
  • The primary obstacles to substance use treatment for patients with prior treatment experiences were the reluctance to disclose their need for help, reported by 50.6%, and concerns related to privacy or confidentiality, reported by 44.2% of participants.
  • 4% of law school students reported seeking treatment for substance use disorders. Among them, the most common barriers to treatment were potential threats to their job or academic status, potential threats to bar admission, and social stigma. 

Why Are Lawyers and Attorneys at a High Risk of Substance Abuse?

Lawyers face intense pressure, long hours, and demanding clients. The high-stress environment leads to self-medication with alcohol, drugs, or prescription medications to cope. Additionally, easy access to some substances, such as alcohol during client meetings, further increases the risk.

What Percentage of Lawyers Are Addicted to Alcohol?

To determine the percentage of lawyers addicted to alcohol, the ABA funded a 2016 survey of 13,000 lawyers nationwide. Of the respondents who completed the initial three questions in the survey, 36.4% exhibited indications of alcohol abuse or dependence. Among those who responded to all ten questions, approximately 21% acknowledged being addicted to alcohol.

How Many Law Students Drink?

Over 17% of law school students were found to be problematic drinkers, according to the ABA-funded 2016 study. 

How Does Stress Contribute to Substance Use Disorders Among Lawyers?

The high levels of stress experienced by lawyers contribute significantly to the prevalence of substance use disorders within the profession. Stressors such as demanding clients, long hours, and the pressure of winning cases can lead individuals to seek relief through substances like alcohol, tobacco, or sedatives. These habits can develop into substance use disorders over time, impacting lawyers’ health, professional performance, and personal lives. For those facing such issues, exploring options like dual diagnosis treatment can be crucial, which addresses both mental health and substance use disorders together.

What are the Legal Implications of Substance Use for Attorneys?

Substance use among attorneys not only affects their health but also their legal careers. It can lead to ethical violations, affecting their ability to practice law and resulting in disciplinary actions by legal boards. According to research, substance use is a significant factor in many disciplinary proceedings against lawyers, often linked to misconduct or negligence. Lawyers struggling with these issues might find themselves also facing drug-related crime statistics in Indiana, especially if their substance use leads to criminal behavior such as DUI or drug possession.

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The Grove Editorial Team is a dynamic group of professionals at The Grove, a leading addiction treatment center in Indianapolis, Indiana. Comprising experienced therapists, medical experts, and dedicated support staff, this team brings a wealth of knowledge and compassionate insight into the complexities of addiction and recovery. Their collective expertise shines through in each article, offering readers valuable guidance, the latest in addiction science, and inspiring stories of healing and transformation. The Grove Editorial Team is committed to educating, supporting, and empowering individuals and families on their journey toward a healthier, substance-free life.

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