by Carol P. Waldhauser, Executive Director, Delaware Lawyers Assistance Program
Doe’s rise in the legal profession was so rapid that even his peers described
both his personal and professional life as full of hard work accompanied with
good fortune, good timing and a bit of luck.
Clearly, many see John as living the American Dream. So why is John’s family worried that his
fairy tale life is about to become a fractured fairy tale? Could it be that they know John is a
high-functioning alcoholic is someone who is an alcoholic but is able to
maintain his/her outside life, i.e.:
career or home or family and friendships - all while drinking
alcoholically. This type of alcoholic
has the same disease as the “skid-row” alcoholic, but shows different signs of
the disease. Moreover, the disease
itself progresses differently within the individual.
many high-functioning alcoholics are not seen as being alcoholic at all because
most have succeeded and/or over-achieved academically, professionally and
personally. Unfortunately this success
can, and often does, increase the symptom of denial in the high-functioning
alcoholic. Accordingly, it is their
denial that makes them less apt to feel that they need treatment for the
disease of alcoholism.
is a well-known fact that many people, including those in the legal profession,
find themselves struggling with unhealthy, expensive, and often
life-threatening addictions and/or other compulsive behaviors. And, if asked, many other individuals might
tell you that they know someone – family, friends, and/or peers– that they
believe have a drinking problem or are high-functioning alcoholic.
is a common saying that alcoholism is an equal-opportunity destroyer. It can affect anyone regardless of race,
ethnic background, socioeconomic status, profession and/or station in
life. Similarly, it is a common saying
in the field of alcohol counseling that the alcoholic is the last person to
know that he or she has a problem with alcohol.
Rather, an individual’s family, peers, partners, friends often know
before the alcoholic admits that they are drinking alcoholically.
to say most individuals do not intend to become addicted to alcohol. However mirroring our fictitious character
John, there comes a point when some people begin to depend on the alcohol not
just to feel good, but to feel normal.
Gradually, the occasional use of alcohol may turn into weekly use, then
daily use and eventually the user comes to the distressing realization that he
or she is addicted to alcohol.
landmark study in 2007 by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and
Alcoholism (NIAAA) categorized alcoholics into 5 subtypes: 19.5% of alcoholics are the “functional”
subtype, 31.5% are the “young adult” subtype, 21% are the young antisocial
subtype, 19% are the intermediate familial subtype (middle-aged with mental
illness) and only 9% are the “chronic severe” subtype that fits the stereo-type
of the low-bottom alcoholic. Another
little known statistic is that other addiction experts estimate that between
75% and 90% of alcoholics are high-functioning.
excessive alcohol consumption causes more that 100,000 deaths annually in the
United States, with 24 percent of these deaths due to drinking and driving, 11
percent to alcohol-related homicide, and 8 percent to alcohol-related
as important to realize, the legal profession is vulnerable to this
disease. According to Douglas B.
Marlowe, PhD, and J.D. in Alcoholism: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments, And
Stress Management For Lawyers:
Alcoholism exacts an exorbitant
toll on lawyers, the legal system, and consumers of legal services. In a 1990 study, conducted by the North
Carolina Bar Association, a staggering 17% of the 2,600 attorneys surveyed admitted
to drinking 3-5 alcoholic beverages per day.
In the state of Washington, another study found that 18% of the 801
lawyers surveyed were problem drinkers.
It is estimated that the number of lawyers in the United States actively
abusing alcohol and drugs is twice that of the general population. Approximately 40% to 70% of attorney
disciplinary proceedings and malpractice actions are linked to alcohol abuse or
a mental illness. P. 240
Marlowe states further “despite this high incidence, lawyers suffering from
alcoholism often feel painfully alone.
Fearing discovery or retribution, they are reticent to ask questions or
attempt to learn more about their problem”.
to say as members of the legal profession, most lawyers spend their time
dealing with other people’s problems, often ignoring their own. The day-to-day pressures and deadlines of
practice sometimes cause lawyers themselves to succumb to substance abuse,
addiction or other compulsive behaviors.
Even for the high-functioning alcoholic, without treatment, the
suffering lawyer’s family and work can be drastically affected.
Do Some People Get Addicted While Others Do Not?
many individuals do not become addicted, some people do because of their vulnerability. Genetics is a big contributor to the risk of
addiction and the nature of this contribution is extremely complex. Remember too that addiction is a
disease. More specifically addiction is
a brain disease characterized by:
compulsive behavior, continued abuse of drugs despite negative consequences
and persistent changes in the brain’s structure and function. Second, addiction is similar to other chronic
illnesses because: it has biological and
behavioral components, both of which must be addressed during treatment. Like other diseases, however, it is:
preventable, treatable, it changes biology and if untreated, it can last a
fact, the disease model of alcoholism contains three core components that are
frequently utilized in the discussion of any addiction:
Tolerance. This is said to be evident when, after
exposure and repeated use, and increased amount of the drug is needed to
produce the same effect.
symptoms. These are experienced when the effects of the
drug wear off, and they vary according to the substance taken. Common withdrawal symptoms include tremor,
hot flushes, and nausea – these are typically relieved by another dose of the
Craving. This is the addict’s overwhelming desire to take the particular drug of
choice even in light of persistent problems caused by the substance.
this disease develops in stages, and denial is a major symptom. Recovery from it (protracted
abstinence and restored functioning) is often a long-term process requiring
repeated episodes of treatment. Plus,
relapses can occur during or after treatment, and signal a need for treatment
adjustment or reinstatement.
Participation in support programs during and following treatment can be
helpful in sustaining long-term recovery therefore full recovery is a challenge
but it is possible.
Is Someone You Know
A High-Functioning Alcoholic?
you, or someone you know, can check any of the symptoms listed below – they may
suffer from a serious health problem.
you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking or drug use?
people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking or drug use?
you ever felt guilty about your drinking or drug use?
you ever had a drink or other drug to steady your nerves or relieve a hangover?
you ever broken a promise to reduce your drinking or drug use or to quit
drinking or drug use interfered wit your work, marriage or other commitments?
you ever lied to cover up your drinking or drug use?
you drinking or using drugs during the workday?
you coming to work after a long night of drinking or drug use and then counting
the hours until the end of the workday to have a drink or use again?
returning to work after lunch
Unable to be located
with vague ailments
excuses for absences
or irregular records
office expenses from trust
to timely disburse
accounting for receipts & disbursements.
John? This illness can ruin marriages
and careers, break up families and law firms, undermine financial security,
destroy a person’s physical and mental health and may lead to incarceration and
sometimes to premature death.
Conversely, all of this is avoidable if the illness can be identified
and treated in time.
This article was originally published in the DE-LAP Zone
Monthly Column in September, 2010, reprinted with the permission of the author
and edited for length.
If you are concerned about substance use, please contact the Missouri
Lawyers’ Assistance Program at 1-800-688-7859 for free, confidential
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Paid for by The Missouri Bar Sebrina Barrett, Executive Director PO Box 119 Jefferson City, MO 65102