Monday, May 23, 2016

"Do you want to die? ... Or do you want to be OK?"

     When this study came out last winter, I began looking for an actual Chicago lawyer who would talk about alcoholism. The fact it's nearly June shows how difficult that was to find. Then again, when I was writing about neckties, it was hard to find a lawyer who'd go on record saying, "I need to wear a necktie in court." I wanted to drive that home in this column but, space being what it is, decided to just let her talk, and not hang in the background, commenting.

     Princeton undergrad. Harvard Law. Partner at a big law firm in Chicago.
     "Theoretically, I'm smart and should know better," Harris said. "It just wasn't the case. It's a disease, unfortunately. My father's side of the family. I just happened to get it."
     The disease is alcoholism, which not only runs in families but in certain professions. Journalism is one, let me assure you. And law is another. A study published earlier this year of 12,825 attorneys by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association found that 20 percent of attorneys engage in "hazardous, harmful and potentially alcohol-dependent drinking." That's one in five, twice the average for people in general.
     "Lawyers are more likely to be problem drinkers," said Patrick Krill, director of the Legal Professionals Program at Hazelden and one of the study authors. "It's a very stressful environment with an abundance of alcohol."
     For Harris, the problem began slowly.
     "I drank moderately at college," she said. "I started as the only African-American woman attorney at the firm, and felt a lot of pressure to succeed. I wanted to fit in. Every Wednesday and Thursday we'd go out for cocktails. It was the culture...."

     To continue reading, click here.


  1. Very brave of you and Karen to reveal to the world what most of us still consider "shameful." And also to make the decision to "live." Many, all too many, faced with the same decision, choose to die, quickly for some, slowly and painfully for most. We who do not share the disease tend to think we're morally superior. The reverse is true I think.


  2. Heavy drinkers often try to nag or push those who drink little, to drink more or join them.

  3. Check out Lawyers' Assistance Program -- unfortunately, it has had a booming business since 1980.

  4. Nice column. I'm glad you found someone open to talk about the issue. I have been a layer for a decade and a half now, and I know a *lot* of problem drinking lawyers. I, for one, wouldn't ever want to return to the world of law firms and billable hours. Much happier in the non-billable sector. No reason to fight that hard to maintain sobriety for a few extra dollars. But that's just me. Others are better suited to handle it.


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