Manchester City Council

Cheshire East Council

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Dealing with a drink problem

Drinking problems affect lawyers as much as any other part of society. However, their treatment needs may be different, writes LawCare.

Lawyers drink. It seems that every lawyer knows another who is enjoying rather too many liquid lunches with clients, or keeping a bottle of alcohol in a desk drawer.

LawCare was established in 1997 because of a perceived heavy drinking culture in the legal profession. Although LawCare’s helpline now takes calls from eight times more lawyers asking for help about stress than it does from those misusing alcohol, 80% of those who contact us seeking help for an alcohol problem blame their starting to drink on stress at work. This is not surprising, as alcohol offers a quick fix to the unpleasant side effects of long-term stress. At LawCare, we remain concerned about the high number of lawyers who are failing in their responsibilities to their firms, their clients, their families and themselves because of the amount they drink and the effect it has on them.

It’s not easy to help an alcoholic lawyer. For the general population, facing up to an alcohol or drug problem usually means going frequently to local meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, going to the family GP and perhaps being referred to the community alcohol service or a counsellor, or maybe even entering an inpatient addiction treatment unit for twelve weeks of intensive rehab paid for by the NHS.

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Lawyers are different, however, and this approach to treatment may not always be appropriate for them, for a number of reasons:

  • They are concerned about their reputation and career prospects if the world becomes aware that they are alcohol dependent
  • They are concerned about the impact on the public image of the profession they represent
  • They have had instilled into them the importance of confidentiality and, despite the assurances that the “Anonymous” part of AA is taken very seriously, are reluctant to make themselves vulnerable by announcing to a roomful of people that they are alcoholic
  • The nature of the profession makes it extremely difficult for a sufferer to take an extended period away from work, especially if colleagues and superiors are not aware of the reason. Barristers, who are generally self-employed, are especially badly placed to take a twelve-week leave of absence, or give instructing Solicitors any clue that they might be struggling with an addiction
  • Many lawyers are highly intelligent and well qualified professionals and fear that  they will have little in common with many of the other people at AA meetings, so they refuse to attend.

For these reasons, LawCare offers specialist support to lawyers who are misusing alcohol or drugs. We have 58 lawyer volunteers across the country who are in recovery from an alcohol or drug addiction and stand ready to offer personal, and completely confidential, one-to-one help. We also have details of 52 accredited professional counsellors who are former (and sometimes still practising) lawyers and understand not only the difficulties of addiction, but also the stresses of day-to-day practice that might have led to the problem developing. An addicted lawyer calling the free LawCare helpline can be referred directly to these private counsellors, avoiding the need to visit his or her GP (although we do recommend this).

When it comes to inpatient treatment – shown to be the most effective way to overcome an addiction – one option is to be treated privately abroad. LawCare has details of centres in the USA and South Africa, but also closer to home, in the Algarve and Marbella. One advantage of being treated abroad is that a stay in a unit overseas (generally 3-6 weeks) can often be disguised as an extended holiday, and the lawyer can return to work with the appropriate tan and photographs, and explain their improved health and lifestyle on the benefits of the holiday. Also, up to 40% of those checking into addiction treatment find it too tough and leave before treatment is completed. The further away the treatment centre is from home, the more difficult it is to leave and the more likely it is that the patient will complete the course.

Even factoring in airfares, it can be cheaper to be treated abroad, especially when exchange rates are favourable. Addicted lawyers, however successful, often have limited funds to pay for private treatment due to the costs involved with maintaining an addiction, so this is a definite advantage. The better climate and pleasant surroundings can also make the process of detoxification and rehabilitation easier than it would otherwise be. Again, referrals can be made privately, without involving the GP, though involvement of the GP is always encouraged.

If you know a lawyer with an alcohol or drug problem, or if you are, or think you may be, a lawyer with an addiction, LawCare can offer you discreet and confidential help and support. LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available to you, 365 days a year.

The hotline is 0800 279 6888. It is open 9 am to 7.30 pm on weekdays, and 10 am to 4 pm at weekends and on bank holidays. For more information, go to www.lawcare.org.uk.

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