Smoking Among Lawyers: A Symptom of a Bigger Problem

Working as a lawyer leads to a lot of stress, depression and anxiety, and these psychological issues are increasingly manifesting themselves through smoking, heavy drinking and other substance abuse. How do we help our attorneys?

lawyer smoking cigaretteRegardless of where you live, who you are or what job you do, you’re still at-risk for starting smoking. When your job is incredibly stressful and people in your profession have the highest suicide rate out of all occupations, battle with depression more frequently and are more likely to have problems with alcohol or drugs, smoking is almost guaranteed to be a problem where you work. This is the case for smoking among lawyers, and although it isn’t the biggest problem lawyers face, the ideal solution overlaps with that to some of the more pressing concerns for the legal profession.

Smoking Rates Among Lawyers

Although substance abuse among lawyers is a widely-recognized issue, smoking among lawyers has gotten a lot less attention. However, a CDC study looking at smoking rates by profession showed that only 9.4% of those working in the legal field were current smokers.

This is notably lower than the smoking rate among all working adults, but it’s still an issue for the legal profession because it forms one of a cluster of dangerous behaviors that reflects deeper issues for lawyers.

Additionally, other research from the U.S. (cited below) shows similar smoking rates to the rest of the population, and the situation in other countries is very different. For example, in France, a 2014 study found that 26% of self-employed lawyers smoked, which is in line with the smoking rate across the country.

Lawyers and Other Substance Abuse

Smoking is just one of the problems the legal profession is facing. One study looked into the issue of alcoholism among lawyers, and found that 20.6% of the 12,825 lawyers surveyed were deemed to drink to a hazardous, harmful or potentially alcohol-dependent drinking. This study also found smoking rates of around 16.9 percent, but this is for smoking in the past year rather than current smoking.

For drug use, the results showed that almost 16% had used sedatives in the past year, over 10% had used marijuana, 5.6% had used opioids (like heroin or oxycontin), just under 5% had used stimulants and 0.8% had used cocaine. This shows that the problem could be more accurately classed as a problem with substance abuse among lawyers, which includes tobacco but isn’t limited to it.

Why Lawyers Smoke: Stress, Depression and Anxiety

The rates of smoking among lawyers, coupled with their use of other substances, raises the question: why do lawyers smoke, drink and use drugs at such high rates? The study cited in the previous section attempted to answer this question by looking at stress, anxiety and depression among attorneys. The researchers found that 28% of lawyers suffered symptoms of depression, 19% had characteristics of anxiety and 23% showed signs of stress.

The researchers also asked the lawyers whether they’d experienced these conditions at any point over the entire course of their careers. Over three in five had experienced anxiety and almost half had experienced depression, with smaller numbers experiencing other issues. Notably, 11.5% had experienced suicidal thoughts, and 0.7% had made a suicide attempt.

These statistics show that the difficult job of being a lawyer takes its toll on your mental health. The stress, depression and anxiety among lawyers is understandable, and it’s well known that these issues often lead to substance abuse. This is why lawyers smoke, drink and use drugs at such high rates, and to really tackle to problem, this needs to be addressed.

Helping Lawyers Quit Smoking

Thankfully, there are many solutions to the problems with smoking among lawyers. For smoking specifically, a wide range of interventions are available, including medications like Chantix, nicotine replacement therapies, and options for less harmful alternative products such as e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. Encouraging lawyers to use these approaches to either quit or switch to a safer nicotine source would reduce the death and disease caused by smoking in the profession.

However, in light of the psychological problems underpinning lawyers’ smoking and other substance use, getting more to accept counseling or other support tailored to the legal profession would be the best approach. The challenge here is making it accessible either discreetly or anonymously, because both those who’ve attended treatment before and those who haven’t reported that not wanting others to find out they needed help was their biggest barrier to attending. The second-biggest barrier for both groups was concerns about privacy or confidentiality.

In other words, cigarette smoking among lawyers is one of a cluster of risky behaviors that reflect underlying psychological issues such as stress or depression. In order to help lawyers overcome these issues, counselors or psychotherapists specializing in addiction or stress in the legal profession would be the best solution, but it would have to be emphasized that all treatment is completely confidential and ideally could be accessed anonymously.

This wouldn’t just help to reduce smoking among lawyers, it would also help them avoid other substances and cope with the stresses of their job more efficiently.