Another Way to Look at Substances and Recovery

by Roger Whittler, LPC
July 24, 2019

Years ago, it was common to hear the term alcoholic used to describe someone who was visibly sluggish and slurred in speech.  Now we use the term substance abuse to cover everything: alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroin - too many substances to list here.  Substance abuse is different than substance use in that substance abuse indicates hampered functioning in work, family life etc.  In 2016, the Journal of Addiction Medicine surveyed attorneys and found that 22% reported the use of substances was problematic at some point in their lives - this represents 1 in 5 attorneys.  Unfortunately, this frequency of substance abuse occurs in other occupations as well.  Psychology Today reports that 20-30%, or 1 in 4 law enforcement officers abuse substances, which is linked to post-traumatic stress.  The general population has a substance abuse rate of about 10%, reflecting a significant increase among attorneys and law enforcement officers. 
I recently conducted a journal search for articles dealing with substance abuse.  Responses to my search returned not only articles about substance abuse, but articles on post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse; adult Attention deficit/hyperactivity and substance abuse; and anxiety and substance abuse.  Although a search of other databases may not yield the same result, substance abuse is not an exclusive diagnosis.  Instead, some other form of personal distress frequently exists with substance abuse.  Substance abuse can become a byproduct of some other form of personal distress. 

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Steering Committee on Lawyer Well-Being submitted its report on July 15, 2019, which points to 8 areas that threaten attorney’s well-being.
  • The Stigma of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse
  • The Pace of Work
  • Financial Pressures
  • Court Deadlines and Courtroom Dynamics
  • Alienation from a Lack of Diversity and Inclusiveness
  • Problems of Isolation
  • Secondary Trauma
  • Incivility

Could this list of threats to attorney’s well-being lead to anxiety (an apprehensive anticipation of future danger) in some cases, and be a potential link to lawyer substance abuse in the same way that post-traumatic stress is linked to law enforcement substance abuse?  

By choosing to view substance abuse in isolation, we may fail to recognize the possibility that another concern existed before substance abuse occurred, and addressing both areas is important.  Post- traumatic stress, anxiety, adult attention deficit and other conditions can play a critical role in the sequence that leads to substance abuse.  An informed approach to addressing other conditions at an early stage is a viable way to reduce substance abuse in the legal profession.  

The Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program is here to help with issues that can affect lawyer well-being with free services to members of the Bar and their families.  Please join us at the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program Annual Conference, October 25 - 26, 2019. 
Interested in learning more? Schedule a session to discuss substance abuse and recovery options by calling the Missouri Lawyers’ Assistance Program at 1-800-688-7859. 


  1. Callender, Karisse; Henesy, Rachel; Lenz, Stephen A., (2016), “Effectiveness of Seeking Safety for Co-Occurring Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Use,” Journal of Counseling and Development, Vol. 94, pp. 51-61.
  2. Fong, Margaret L., Silien, Karen A., (1999), “Assessment and Diagnosis of DSM-IV Anxiety Disorders,” Journal of Counseling and Development, Vol. 77, pp. 209-217.
  3. Harper, Dennis C., Wadsworth, John S., (2007), “Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Assessment and Treatment Strategies”, Journal of Counseling and Development, Vol. 85, pp. 101-107.
  4. Police and Addiction, 2019, Retrieved from URL:
  5. Supreme Judicial Court Steering Committee on Lawyer Well-Being, Report to the Justices, (2019), Retrieved from URL:
  6. Krill, Patrick R. JC, LLM; Johnson, Ryan, MA and Albert, Linda, MSSW. “The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys,” Journal of Addiction Medicine,, Vol.10(1), Jan/Feb 2016, pp. 46-52.