Lawyers and Alcohol

  • October 01, 2014
  • David J. Bilinsky

Facing a hidden problem

Could’ve been the whiskey
Might’ve been the gin
Could’ve been the three or four six-packs
I don’t know, but look at the mess I’m in…

– Music and Lyrics by Tom Paxton, recorded by The Irish Rovers.

According to the Legal Profession Assistance Conference of Canada (LPAC) (lpac.ca), studies in numerous jurisdictions have pegged the rate of alcoholism in the legal profession at between 15% and 24%. Roughly one in five lawyers are addicted to alcohol. Furthermore, they state that studies in Canada and the USA have shown that approximately 60% of disciplinary prosecutions and malpractice claims involve alcoholism. 90% of serious disciplinary prosecutions involve alcohol abuse.

WebMD states (webmd.com/depression/alcohol-and-depression) that nearly one-third of people with major depression also have an alcohol problem (per a major study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). Alcohol abuse and depression are both serious problems that we, as a profession, cannot ignore.

What are the signs which indicate that you, or a partner, associate, spouse or friend may be having problems with alcohol? Below is a list of several signs to look for, garnered from several websites. You:

  • have temporary memory loss and blackouts;
  • drink to cheer up;
  • have tried to quit drinking but can’t;
  • drink to be “normal” or “fit in”;
  • have trembling hands;
  • drink in secret or lie about your alcohol intake;
  • have anxiety, insomnia or nausea when you stop drinking;
  • drink in the morning;
  • have problems at work because of your drinking, such as being late or not going in at all;
  • drink in risky situations, such as before or while driving a car;
  • get hurt or you hurt someone else when you are drinking;
  • have given up other activities so you can drink;
  • feel guilty after drinking;
  • make excuses for your drinking or do things to hide your drinking, such as buying alcohol at different stores;
  • worry that you won’t get enough alcohol for an evening or weekend;
  • are having problems with family members as a result of drinking; and
  • have flushed skin/broken capillaries on your face.

Lawyers are very adept at hiding personal problems, including difficulties with alcohol. The onset of alcoholism can be very gradual. Denial, combined with the fact that the progression to alcoholism can take 15 to 20 years or longer, means that many lawyers who have a problem do not face the issue until the addiction has become long-engrained. Then there is the wrongly-held belief that if you can continue to function at work and produce work, you are not addicted to alcohol. LPAC states that lawyers aged 40 to 55 are at the greatest risk of becoming alcoholics.

DrinkingandYou.com, citing Canadian recommended guidelines, states that women should have up to two drinks per day to a maximum of 10 per week; men three per day to a maximum of 15 per week. A drink is defined as 5 oz of wine, 12 oz of regular beer or 1.5 oz of 80 proof spirits.

While studies have shown the benefits of moderate drinking, regularly exceeding the recommended guidelines can pose significant health, personal and professional risks and cause serious problems for you, your family and your legal career. Seek help early if you see warning signs.

After all, you don’t want to wake up one morning realizing what a mess you are in.


The views expressed herein are strictly those of David Bilinsky and do not reflect the opinions of the Law Society of British Columbia, CBABC, or their respective members.

David J. Bilinsky is the Practice Management Advisor for the Law Society of British Columbia.

Email: daveb@lsbc.org
Blog: thoughtfullaw.com