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Study: More Than 30 Percent Of American Attorneys Are ‘Problem Drinkers’

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A study published this week in the Journal of Addiction Medicine found a widespread problem of alcohol abuse within the nation's legal profession.

“It’s a really systemic problem, and our data bears that out,” Patrick R. Krill, the study’s lead author, told KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday. Krill is an attorney and a clinician at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

The study of 15,000 attorneys in 19 states found that as many as 36 percent of lawyers qualify as problem drinkers. About 28 percent suffer from significant mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

Krill said the incidence of these problems is much higher among lawyers than it is among medical doctors. He said he conducted the study because of the abundance of anecdotal evidence that drinking was a problem in the profession.

“I see it on a daily basis,” he said.

The study showed that the highest levels of problem drinking occurred among lawyers in private firms.

“That, I think, speaks to sort of the cultural aspect of the problem within the profession,” Krill said. “Sometimes heavy drinking or drinking as a coping mechanism can be sort of passed down within the profession, and that exists within the culture of many firms.”

Krill said lawyers often reject professional help for their drinking problems because of a “pervasive fear” that their reputations might suffer. He said he hopes the study will motivate the profession to dedicate more resources toward addressing the issue.

Krill will present his findings at the American Bar Association midyear meeting in San Diego on Saturday.

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