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It is a Disease, Not a Disgrace: Understanding Addiction

Wed, 10/28/2015 - 11:49 -- admin25

by Amara Durham

We would like to believe that it takes a special person to persevere through law school and to prepare for the bar exam. We hope that we are more ambitious than our peers, working the long hours required to make partner or principal in a law practice. In that effort, the average attorney works 60-80 hours each week. People who work 50+ hours each week are three times more likely to abuse alcohol than those who work less. The average depression rate for lawyers is 20 percent and 40 percent for law students, yet 6.5 percent of U.S. adults suffer from depression. In fact, attorneys are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression compared to most other professionals.

Though society is doing something to address these alarming rates, there are certain factors that get in way of treating these matters. Recent surveys show that 70 percent of lawyers who are dependent on drugs or alcohol strongly believe that they can actually handle chemical dependency on their own. Equally alarming is that 40 percent of lawyers fear that getting treatment will have a negative impact on their career and reputation. Fortunately, there are different treatment options and solutions for lawyers, all of which are confidential. Each state is equipped with an effective Lawyer Assistance Program, which is dedicated to providing confidential help for lawyers, law students and judges who have problems with chemical abuse/dependency and/or mental health issues. These programs also connect suffering professionals with those who are living in long-term recovery and who can provide much needed support to those in need.

There is an adage that if you think that there may be problem, there usually is. The most recent publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) outlines criteria for substance dependence for someone who experienced three or more of the following within a 12-month period. The criteria are:

  1. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:
    1. a need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect.
    2. markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.
  2. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:
  3. the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance.
  4. the same (or a closely related) substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
  5. The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
  6. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use.
  7. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use the substance, or recover from its effects.
  8. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of substance use.
  9. The substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.

Legal partners and associates often join family members in the notion that they caused, can control, or can cure someone dependent upon drugs and alcohol. This is misguided. When these well-intended individuals begin to ignore the needs of the clients, the firm, and the family, a cycle of co-dependency has begun. The co-dependent becomes addicted to the addiction, serving in a role of rescuer and enablers despite the best of intentions. Management and love cannot “cure” chemical dependency.

The Dallas Bar Association Peer Assistance committee held a CLE during which some signs and symptoms of co-dependency were shared. Signs of co-dependency include workaholism, perfectionism, inability to set boundaries and striving for achievement (at any cost). Visit to learn more and for a list of resources.

Research indicates that 25 percent of lawyers facing disciplinary action suffer from mental illness and are abusing drugs or alcohol. Rule 8.03 allows a lawyer “suspecting” another lawyer of being “impaired by chemical dependency on alcohol or drugs (or by mental illness)” to “report the individual to an approved peer assistance program rather than to an appropriate disciplinary authority.” This is a rule protecting the dependent, the firm and its associates. The caller, whose identity is protected, also is protected from liability. The bar is issuing a clear invitation to support its members. Calls made to TLAP are not shared with the Disciplinary Counsel and no records are kept.

There are over 23 million people impacted by chemical dependency. Those in recovery are eager to help. The same drive and ambition which propels attorneys to accomplishment propel them to help. Make a call. Call TLAP at (800) 343-8527 24 hours/day, 7 days a week.

To help combat this growing problem, the DBA’s Peer Assistance Committee is sponsoring a CLE on November 20, noon, at Belo on the topic of the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP), with speaker Bree Buchanan of the State Bar of Texas’ Lawyers Assistance Program. All members are invited.

Amara Durham, attorney at law, is co-founder of At the Helm, a non-profit dedicated to Helping, Educating, Leading, and Motivating families and their loved ones in need of academic, mental health, and dependency support. She can be reached at

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