Alcoholism and the Law

You have probably seen your share of parties. You may have gone (or still go to) to happy hour with some friends, or even have a nightcap to help you sleep.  In law school, alcohol is a staple. Many events hinge on the use of alcohol; and some lawyers and judges may even avoid events without alcohol. On top of that, there is pressure to drink– peer pressure from your friends and the larger social pressure that all lawyers drink.  

  On the last day of my 1L orientation there was a margarita machine. I thought nothing of it. I was a very casual drinker, maybe once or twice a month did I finish a glass of wine. Roughly two weeks later, I found myself at another event with alcohol. I was excited about the easy access to free drinks and I thought that a drink every two weeks would be alright. However, as the semester came into full swing, student organizations and the school started increasing the number of events. Almost all the events had wine or beer.  

  Soon, I found myself drinking outside of law school events more and more, especially during finals. Finals threw me for a loop. Right before my last final in my 2L spring, I realized I drank each day for two weeks straight. It didn’t feel like I drank each day, but when I recanted my last few weeks to my non-law school friends, it was true. I was a stone’s throw away from a real problem, or maybe it was already a problem. I knew I had to act before it became worse. During finals, it’s easy to lose track of time. One day of studying felt like three days on my body and mind, I felt like I needed a drink after three days of studying. That was my clear “ah ha” moment when I knew I should look closer at my drinking habits for now and the future.  

Annie R., Student at Seton Hall University School of Law

There are signs of unhealthy addiction or at least the start of an unhealthy addiction:   

  • Intense Cravings: do you need to drink or use other substances? FYI. If you find yourself telling yourself or others, defensively “I can stop anytime,” consider seeking help.
  • Physical Dependence: do you use the substance to function? Substance abuse can simply be defined as a pattern of harmful use of any substance for mood-altering purposes. “Substances” can include alcohol and other drugs (illegal or not) as well as some substances that are not drugs at all. Dependence could occur if, for instance, you need a glass of wine to network; you need a drug to start or end your day; or you need a drug (such as Adderall) to get any work done, but you don’t have a prescription.
  • Tolerance: do you increasingly need more of the drug/alcohol to get the buzz? If you’re finding that over time the same amount of a substance is no longer affecting you, it can signal you’re on a dangerous path.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: It’s common for actual signs of addiction to be overlooked. Have you noticed changes?  A headache that only goes away after you’ve used a substance? Difficulty sleeping without a nightcap?
  • Drug-Seeking: are you only going to law school/legal events for free drinks? Do you spend a lot of time and effort finding drugs or alcohol? 
  • Neglect: are you neglecting responsibilities and obligations to use drugs or alcohol? 
  • Developing Unhealthy Friendships: are you only friends with a person because they encourage you to drink? Or supply you with substances? Drag you to events only for the alcohol? 
  • Isolation: are you hiding your drinking/drugs from your parents, friends, and/or partner?  
  • Financial Troubles: does most of your income go to drugs and alcohol? Sometimes to the detriment of other basic needs like groceries?

If these signs are signalling to you that you might have a problem, or the start of one, take action. Check out self-help sites like this or this, or a helpline. You can also consult a therapist or seek help; Lawyer Assistance Programs are invaluable.

Sometimes navigating legal events can be difficult when you don’t drink—whether because you’re cutting down after fear of alcoholism or simply because you don’t drink. Peer pressure is tough. Networking is tough. Being surrounded by drinking is tough. Here are a few easy things you can do that may help. 

  1. Don’t be afraid to say that you aren’t drinking. Sometimes people ask about your drinking habits to make themselves feel better. If they persist, you can either tell the truth, lie, or call them out on their peer pressure.  You can ask “It’s cool that I’m not drinking, right? Why do you ask?” this should stop any further inquire.
  2. Order a non-alcoholic drink that looks alcoholic. You can circumvent the nosey questions by ordering a clear soda with lime (mimics a vodka tonic); or soda and cranberry juice, a Shirley temple, or cranberry juice (to mimic red wine).
  3. If you are drinking, but trying to cut down, set yourself a hard limit. Be clear about how much you can imbibe, and then cut yourself off. Maybe even ask someone else you trust to make sure you’re not exceeding that limit. I personally have days where I don’t feel like networking, so I give myself a drink limit to ‘loosen up.” For me that adds up to 1 – 2 glasses of wine, nothing more.
  4. Set yourself a hard limit on time. If you’re worried about missing out on important networking opportunities by avoiding events because they have alcohol, stay at a drinking event for only 30 to 45 minutes then leave. Not everyone can deal with being around alcohol and drinkers.
  5. Use the buddy system. It’s okay to ask for help. Find someone you trust who is willing to help keep you on track with your drinking and help you leave when your time is up. Plus, moral support helps make everything seem more manageable.

Attorneys are twice as likely than the general population to struggle with alcoholism. You have to be completely honest with yourself to recognize that no one is safe from addiction, not even you. The legal profession suffers from heavy workloads, moral conflicts, and emotionally draining cases. You have to be vigilant to make sure you have healthy ways to deal with the stress and internal conflict.

Use your resources and develop healthy habits, for instance:

  1. Eat well (simple tips on that here!) 
  2. Sleep Well.
  3. Learn your limits and when to say no.
  4. Find someone you can talk to (friend, pastor, therapist, or mentor)
  5. Don’t allow stress to paralyze you, get active! (gym, sports…) 
  6. Start a creative hobby. 
  7. Give back to the community. 
  8. Adopt a pet! (Only if you are in a mental and physical place to be able to care for one).
  9. Take some time for yourself, you aren’t a machine. 
  10. Get professional help if necessary.

If you find yourself struggling with addiction remember, remember you are not alone. You have not f*cked up. You are amazing and will still be amazing once this passes. You belong.  

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