ABA Law Student Podcast

Substance Abuse and Mental Illness in the Legal Profession

Between 21% and 36% of practicing attorneys exhibit drinking behaviors that could be considered hazardous, harmful, or possibly alcohol dependent. 28% of licensed and employed attorneys are struggling with either mild, moderate, or severe depression, and 19% are battling with clinically significant levels of anxiety. How prevalent are mental health and substance misuse issues in the profession and what can young lawyers do to help reduce these numbers?

In this episode of the ABA Law Student Podcast, host Fabiani Duarte speaks with Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Legal Professionals Program Director Patrick Krill about the prevalence of substance misuse and other mental health concerns within the occupation. Patrick explains his motivation for encouraging the creation of this study, mainly a lack of relevant drug use and mental health data, and explores possible reasons as to why so little research of this kind has been done on attorneys. He also explains the tools he used, like the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) and Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (Dass 21), to measure alcohol consumption and mental health concerns among the pool of 15,000 attorneys surveyed. The conversation then shifts to an analysis of the survey results which show that young attorneys within their first 10 years of practice have the highest rates of mental health issues and problematic drinking. Patrick expounds upon these statistics by revealing that 90% of the individuals surveyed identified alcohol as their drug of choice. He wraps up the interview with some suggestions on how drinking culture can be decoupled from the legal profession and provides tips for law students on identifying if they struggle with mental illness and substance misuse and resources for those seeking help.

Patrick Krill is director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Legal Professionals Program and a licensed attorney, board certified alcohol and drug counselor and graduate-level instructor in addiction counseling. He conceptualized, developed, and co-facilitated a nationwide joint research project between the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation to survey the current rates of substance use, depression, and anxiety among attorneys throughout the country. Patrick also serves on the Advisory Board of the Dave Nee Foundation, is a member of the Nomination Review Committee for the PRISM Awards, and works closely with the Entertainment Industries Council. He earned his BA in political science and government from American University, his J.D. from Loyola Law School, and his LL.M. in international law from the American University Washington College of Law. Patrick also received his Master’s Degree in addiction counseling from the Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction Studies.