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#SCLawyers: Addiction Destroying Profession

Alcoholism, drug abuse rampant … is the S.C. Bar Association doing enough?

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The abuse of alcohol and other drugs (including prescription medications) as a means of escaping the grind of daily life is creating a potentially lethal cocktail for attorneys in South Carolina – and across the nation.

Depression, addiction, suicide, overdoses … these are just some of the outcomes attorneys are grappling with as an epidemic of substance abuse and mental health problems grips the profession.

Every day we see new stories related to the issue …

“Two bar members in South Carolina took their lives within the last three months,” a source familiar with the situation told us.

Several others have overdosed or been forced to abandon their practices as they seek treatment for alcohol abuse and/ or drug addiction.

Obviously a big part of this issue is the Palmetto State’s worsening opioid epidemic – which we have covered extensively in the past.  But our source – who is working behind the scenes to get the S.C. Bar Association more engaged on these matters – says attorneys are more susceptible to being picked off by substance abuse issues.

“It is a nationwide problem,” the source added.

According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, one in three attorneys are problem drinkers while 28 percent suffer from depression.

“Attorneys experience problematic drinking that is hazardous, harmful, or otherwise consistent with alcohol use disorders at a higher rate than other professional populations,” researchers concluded.  “Mental health distress is also significant.”

And what about drug use?  That’s an open-ended question, apparently.

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(Via: iStock)

Of the 12,825 attorneys who participated in the 2016 study, only 3,419 of them answered the questionnaire’s drug-related inquiry.

“It’s left to speculation what motivated 75 percent of attorneys to skip over the section on drug use as if it wasn’t there,” the study’s author told The New York Times.

What’s driving this epidemic?

“The pressure to be perfect is unreal,” our source said. “We are accountable to clients, judges, the to the Bar.  One perceived misstep subjects us to grievances and fee disputes.  No wonder anxiety is skyrocketing and attorneys are turning to substances for ‘help.’  Further, many attorneys feel that they cannot show ‘weakness’ by asking for mental health help and are worried about exposure if they attend 12-step meetings.”

The S.C. Bar has addressed this issue in the past, creating a “Lawyers Helping Lawyers” committee and requiring all attorneys to take continuing legal education on mental health matters.

Is it enough?

Not according to our source, who says the Bar’s current efforts are not “making any difference.”

To be clear: This website adopts a vastly different view on the use of recreational drugs than most media outlets.  As libertarians, we believe what people choose to do in the privacy of their homes – or in other settings where the liberty and safety of others isn’t imposed upon – is their business.  Exclusively.  We also believe the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes is a moral imperative – not to mention a key to resolving the opioid epidemic.

Also, we believe in the free market.  If people want to grow pot or poppies for profit, that should be their right.

Furthermore, government’s four-decade “War on Drugs” has been a failure in absolutely every respect.

On a personal level, though, our founding editor Will Folks is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who knows firsthand just how dangerous these substances can be – and how they can completely derail one’s life unless the root causes of the addiction are addressed.

As noted above, government cannot and should not impose its definition of morality on individuals – frankly, its work should start and stop at the point of protecting individuals from harming others, not themselves.

That is the key demarcation line here …

But we applaud private sector efforts to combat alcohol and drug abuse.  Especially professional associations that take the initiative in offering assistance to their members.  Hopefully the S.C. Bar will step up its efforts to do just that.

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