Lawyer Wellness

More female than male lawyers are engaging in risky drinking, new study finds

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A study of 2,863 attorneys compiled during the pandemic found that depression symptoms, anxiety and stress were higher among female respondents, and a larger percentage of women than men were and engaging in risky or hazardous drinking.

Additionally, the study found that 25% of responding women—compared with 17% of the men—thought about leaving the profession due to mental health concerns.

A research article about the study, titled “Stress, drink, leave: An examination of gender-specific risk factors for mental health problems and attrition among licensed attorneys,” was published Wednesday by the Public Library of Science. Lawyers were surveyed through the California Lawyers Association and the D.C. Bar.

The study was conducted by Justin Anker, an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and Patrick Krill, a lawyer who is also a licensed and board-certified alcohol and drug counselor. They also wrote the research article.

Women comprised 51% of the respondents, and approximately 67% of both male and female respondents reported working more than 40 hours per week.

Standardized patient health questionnaires assessed depression, anxiety and stress symptoms. Of the women, 5.2% had symptoms indicating moderately severe depression, compared with 4.2% of the men. In addition, 8.4% of the women and 4.5% of the men had severe anxiety. Also, 37.5% of the women and 30.1% of the men reported high effort-reward imbalances.

The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test-Consumption was used to assess whether respondents engaged in risky or hazardous drinking. Risky drinking is defined as drinking at a level that puts one at risk for medical or social problems, and hazardous drinking is considered to be drinking at a level that puts people more at risk for adverse health effects, Krill told the ABA Journal.

Of the female respondents, 55.9% screened positive for risky drinking, and 34% for hazardous drinking. For male respondents, 46.4% screened positive for risky drinking, and 25.4% for hazardous drinking.

Of the lawyers surveyed, 34.6% of the women and 29.2% of the men reported that their drinking has increased during the pandemic. The study also found that women who reported an increase were seven times more likely to engage in risky drinking, and the men were nearly four times more likely.

Krill told the Journal that for men, risky drinking is considered to be consuming more than 14 drinks per week or more than four during one occasion. Having more than 21 drinks per week is considered hazardous drinking. For women, he added, having more than seven drinks per week or more than three during one occasion is seen as risky drinking, and hazardous drinking is having 14 or more drinks per week.

Biological differences in body chemistry and structure lead most women to absorb more alcohol than men, and it takes longer for women to metabolize it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A study published in the January/February 2016 Journal of Addiction Medicine conducted the by Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs also examined lawyers, mental health and substance abuse. It surveyed 12,825 lawyers and found that 15.5% of the female respondents and 25.1% of the male respondents screened positive for “problematic drinking.”

The term, as defined by the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, describes the condition of people who screen positive for hazardous use, harmful use or alcohol use disorder. Krill was also a co-author of the study, which is titled “The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys.”

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