Paying the Price of Self-Neglect

By Lauren Rich | November 29, 2018

It’s not news to anyone in the field of law that being a practicing attorney comes with a cost. The end of the year means closing out files, invoicing, beginning taxes, and celebrating holidays with loved ones. Ironically, the holidays are one of the busiest times in mental health, which is surprising considering the amount of travel, shopping, and family gatherings. With the snow storm of demands many well-educated professionals look to alcohol or prescription medications for answers.

The ABA Midyear Review revealed its survey numbers at their bi-annual conference in February, an astounding twenty-one percent of attorneys endorsed habits consistent with problem drinkers, more than double the rate of other working professionals. At times alcohol can be part of the job when closing a deal with a client, happy hour after a brutal day of litigation, or even the office Christmas Party. The survey went on to identify twenty-eight percent of attorneys suffering from depression and nineteen percent from anxiety. In comparison, the percentage of Americans with an alcohol problem averages six to seven percent. The holidays can be especially stressful regardless of relationship status. The obligatory visits to five different houses on Christmas Eve would exhaust a normal human being. Humorously, the Clark Griswold in each of us thinks it’s a good idea to host the Christmas dinner, resulting in three days of seclusion in the garage sipping peppermint Schnapps.

During a recent holiday business lunch, the hiring attorney passively disclosed he drank before going to bed. For a few moments I listened and waited for the rest of what I knew would be coming. The young, overworked, highly stressed, heavy set attorney stated, “I only drink to fall asleep.” I sat astounded at what I just heard. How could such an educated man not know that alcohol disrupts the sleep cycle? I took the time to gently provide psychoeducation regarding alcohol and the negative effects it has on a person’s REM sleep. To wit he responded, “So you’re telling me I should drink in the mornings?” I smiled and raised my sweet tea to what he considered his weekly dose of therapy and sarcastically responded, “I’ll drink to that.”

Attorneys face varying amounts of stress in their professional lives that seem to manifest in different forms. If it’s not anxiety from trials or mergers, it may be the nervousness you face coming home to a family that expects you to provide and be emotionally present in spite of your eighty-hour work week. Attorneys work tirelessly to advocate for clients whom they represent, and the gratitude and appreciation motivate most to continue their work despite the doggedness of long days and exhausted lives. But at what cost?

An alcohol or drug addiction presents differently for each person. Many will suffer natural consequences such as car accidents, DUIs, loss of relationships, or poor work performance. Others may come to rely on alcohol or medications to calm their nerves, cope with upsetting cases, or suppress emotions that illicit discomfort. Some may climb their way out of the bottle only to be lost in the dark web of violent pornography and sexual addiction. Many clients report somatic symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems, bowel issues, and stress induced vomiting. Most clients notice a lack of desire to do things they once enjoyed, a need to isolate themselves from others, and anxiety attacks that appear at the worst possible moments.

Professionals report their time is the company’s most precious asset, so how could we give up such an asset to seek help or address these problems? The real question is: what will the company lose and what will the individual sacrifice by not seeking help? Simply put, the cost of treatment should outweigh the financial loss of losing a license. The ninety minutes per week spent in therapy will preserve the limited emotional resources each attorney possess and can be utilized for more pressing issues such as caring for sick or elderly parents. Seeking guidance isn’t complicated. The best way to find a quality mental health provider is by asking those trusted friends and family about who they know. Calling a provider’s office for a five-minute interview of what they specialize in, what type of licensure they possess, and the fees associated with services is also a good start. If individual therapy is not an option support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Sex Addicts Anonymous can be offered in face to face, online, or teleconference settings. Do not seek help from individuals who are unlicensed or do not specialize in the area of treatment you are seeking. Ask for references or consult search engines for client testimonials and any licensure complaints, keeping in mind that some reviewers may be clients who were not ready to seek treatment or hear the truth about their situation.

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