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ANALYSIS: Lawyers Say Alcohol Use Up, Well-Being Down in H1

Sept. 8, 2022, 9:00 AM

Most lawyers who said they increased their alcohol use in the first half of this year also reported that their well-being is stagnant or declining, according to responses to Bloomberg Law’s most recent Workload & Hours Survey.

I was particularly interested in the alcohol and well-being survey responses because my past reporting has included these topics. It’s a fact that lawyers experience alcohol use disorders at a far higher rate than other professional populations, in part because the profession has long emphasized work (and the billable hour) over self-care.

When 664 law firm and in-house attorneys were asked to select from a list of work-related issues that they experienced in H1 2022, 15% picked increased alcohol usage. On its own, this number doesn’t say too much—although it does indicate that legal professionals are continuing to turn to alcohol to cope with the stresses of the profession.

So I decided to cross-reference this result with two other survey questions often discussed hand-in-hand with lawyers and alcohol: gender and well-being.

Gender Differences?

Of the attorneys who reported drinking more, there was a fairly even gender divide: 46% were women, and 53% were men. (The remainder opted not to reveal their gender.)

Past studies have shown that women lawyers experience problematic alcohol use more than men, so the survey results puzzled me initially. But the way the question is phrased—whether attorneys experienced increased alcohol usage—doesn’t necessarily contradict those studies. Women still could be drinking more than men, but roughly the same number of women and men drank more in the past six months than they previously did.

H1’s Decline in Well-Being

Well-being is another area often linked to substance use disorders, so I decided to look at the well-being of lawyers who reported drinking more in H1.
Interestingly, 83% of those lawyers said that their well-being stayed the same (36%) or declined (47%). In comparison, only 38% of all survey respondents said their well-being declined in H1.

The survey doesn’t answer whether—or how—attorney well-being influences alcohol consumption and vice versa. But the timing of the survey is important to note and might help shed some light on the results: It covered a time when many lawyers were adjusting to the return to “normal” after two-plus years of Covid-related changes.

Most attorneys have been returning to the office at least part-time and dealing with the accompanying work-related issues and stressors: commutes, in-person interactions with colleagues, and busier schedules. This might be allowing less time for self-care, resulting in a decline in well-being—as well as the need for an outlet for the stress in the form of alcohol.

Related content is available for free on our In Focus: Lawyer Well-Being page. Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our Surveys, Reports & Data Analysis, In Focus: Lawyer Development, and In Focus: Legal Operations pages.

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