The use of alcohol in our culture is widespread, often associated with social events and as self-medication for stress, tension, anxiety, personal or professional problems or even mental illnesses like depression.

The culture of the law school and the law firm or other organization often incorporates at least the use of alcohol for celebrations, end-of-work release, and “relaxation” from the pressures of study and practice.  “Hard working and hard playing” is frequently a value in these settings.  Many people can drink without significant consequences.

But for many there’s a downside:   DWIs, less productivity at work, inappropriate behavior, stressed marital and family relationships, physical consequences, and the increased risk of dependency.  The American Medical Association (AMA) defines alcoholism as a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations.  The disease is often progressive and fatal.  It is characterized by continuous or periodic impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial.

Our profession has problems with mood altering substances in addition to alcohol.  This may be an unintended dependency on a prescription drug or an intentional use for the mind-altering affect that occurs.  Street drugs have been used for a high as well as for perceived benefits such as the ability to work on less sleep.

Is there a Problem?

The CAGE questionnaire (based on key words in the questions) is a quick tool to assess whether there may be a problem.  The use any mind-altering substance, drugs or alcohol, will fit into these questions.

  • Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
  • Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking?
  • Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (Eye opener)?

One “yes” response means there may be a problem.  If you answered “yes” to more than one question, there’s a greater likelihood a problem exists and further assessment is appropriate.  The drop-down list to the left provides additional assessment tools.

It’s difficult to ask for help, especially in our profession where we’re used to solving problems for others and ourselves.  If there is a problem, not getting help means the problem will only get worse.  Drug or alcohol addiction is a treatable illness; it is not a moral weakness.  Identifying and treating the problem will result in improved quality of life and increased opportunities for good health and success.


The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) has collected a number of articles that discuss substance use issues.

The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) clearinghouse for alcohol and drug information has a great deal of information for individuals seeking help, professionals in the helping professions and researchers.

National Institute on Drug Abuse provides information on the science of drug and alcohol addiction.  There are links to a wide variety of substances.  An excellent pamphlet, The Science of Addiction, is available by mail or as a PDF.

Minnesota Recovery Page is a directory of resources for recovery, including AA and Al-Anon information.

Boynton Health Service, Alcohol and Chemical Health Services (U of MN).  Provides educational information about alcohol and other drugs, as well as chemical health assessments and individual counseling tailored to each person’s unique chemical health situation.

Alcohol Screening.Org – helps individuals assess their own alcohol consumption patterns to determine if their drinking is likely to be harming their health or increasing their risk for future harm.

National Alcohol Screening Day – National Alcohol Screening Day (NASD) is an outreach, education, and screening initiative that raises awareness about harmful and dependent drinking behaviors and connects individuals who are at risk with treatment options. NASD is held annually on Thursday of the first full week of April. Thousands of colleges, community-based organizations, and military installations provide the program to the public each year.