Treatment center to offer substance-abuse education geared for lawyers

Keywords Alcohol / Drugs

Recent studies showing disproportional rates of substance abuse among attorneys prompted Fairbanks Treatment Center to announce Thursday the advent of educational programs for people in the legal profession who may be at risk of alcoholism or drug addiction.

Holly Homan, manager of prevention services at Indianapolis-based Fairbanks, cited a Hazelden Betty Ford Clinic study of lawyers released a year ago that reported more than 20 percent of practicing lawyers qualify as problem drinkers, a rate significantly higher than that of the population at large.

Homan said the program will be taking referrals, including self-referrals, of legal professionals who may suspect a problem with substance abuse. The eight-hour program will use the evidence-based Prime for Life curriculum in a course open only to judges, lawyers and law students. It will be subject to federal regulations regarding the confidentiality of alcohol and drug abuse patient records.

The prevalence of substance abuse among lawyers isn’t surprising given the stresses of the profession that include long hours, conflict, and the ethical considerations that prevent attorneys from talking about their cases and clients, Homan said.

But because alcohol is frequently a feature of law-related events, “the culture supports the use of substances,” which can foster abuse, she said. “Social drinking turns into a problem, and how do you stop that before that takes over your life?”

Homan said research shows that early intervention increases the likelihood of successful treatment of substance-abuse problems. Studies also suggest legal professionals are likelier than others to deny or minimize substance abuse problems.

Rensselaer attorney Richard Comingore will facilitate the Fairbanks programs, the first of which will be Feb. 25.  Others are scheduled May 6, July 8 and Oct. 7. Program registration costs $125, and the programs will be presented at Fairbanks’ center at 8102 Clearvista Parkway in Indianapolis.

“We lawyers seem to be in a profession that is high-risk because of the stresses and the nature of the work,” Comingore said. “We as lawyers like to think we can do everything, but we can’t.”

Comingore has facilitated the Prime for Life curriculum in his hometown and for Fairbanks, but this is the first time he’ll be teaching a program tailored to legal professionals. He looks at the program as an opportunity to give back to the profession. He said as facilitator, he’ll have only the first names of participants.

“I’m not pointing to anyone and saying, ‘You are a drunk, you are a drug addict.’ I’m saying these are the facts,” he said. “This is what the evidence is showing, this is what the research is showing, and where are you on this journey?

“I don’t want to pick up the paper and see one of my fellow lawyers in the paper because he got a DUI,” he said. “I’d rather be proactive than reactive.”

Homan said a long-term hope is that a version of Prime for Life will be incorporated into law school curricula. Studies show law students and young lawyers are particularly at risk for substance abuse and mental health issues.

For more information about the Prime for Life sessions for attorneys, contact Holly Homan at 317-572-9373 or email [email protected]

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