Health Beat: Addicted attorneys: Why we should care

Health Beat: Addicted attorneys: Why we should care

CENTER CITY, Minn. - Is your high stress job driving you to drink? If so, you're not alone, especially if you're a lawyer.

The American Bar Association estimates that 15 to 20 percent of all lawyers in the U.S. suffer from alcohol or substance abuse, and stress is a major contributing factor. There is, however, a treatment program designed specifically for the legal profession.

"I was drinking a bottle of wine every night," said Jessica Rugani, a prosecuting attorney and recovering alcoholic. "It was an escape. It was something to enjoy and savor. It really just let me forget my problems."

Rugani prosecuted people for DWI and drug cases, so admitting she had a drinking problem was humbling.

"I realized that the practice of law was becoming difficult for me because of my drinking," Rugani explained.

Rugani entered a special rehab program designed specifically for legal professionals. It's at Hazelden, a leading private, not-for-profit, alcohol and drug addiction treatment center.

"Lawyers are twice as addicted as the regular population," said Link Christin, director, Hazelden Legal Professionals Program.

Studies show 18 percent of attorneys who practiced law for two to 20 years have a drinking problem. That number increased to 25 percent for attorneys who practiced more than 25 years.

"It is very much part of the attorney culture," Christin said.

Christin said he believes social influences, heavy workloads, and the stress of the job leads lawyers to addiction, but often — with treatment — they summon the motivation to sober up.

"Once you get sober you have extra hours. You have extra energy. You're thinking better," Christin explained.

That's a win-win for the lawyers and the clients they represent.

You can take a free online screening to help you determine if you have an addiction problem.

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