Vol. 80, No. 10, October 2007
Addiction and Attorneys
Hats off to Timothy D. Edwards and Gregory J. Van Rybroek for the article Addiction and Attorneys: Confronting the Denial (August 2007). Shining the light on addiction issues within the legal profession is a huge step forward. Understandably, the authors could only scratch the surface of this issue, which has many layers. However, I was deeply disappointed that the article was solely focused on alcohol and drug addiction, leaving those attorneys who struggle with compulsive disorders (such as gambling, compulsive spending, eating disorders, and compulsive viewing of Internet pornography or other sexual compulsions) nowhere to turn.
Perhaps the authors felt compelled to focus on chemical addictions because the term "addiction" has been traditionally applied to substance abuse, that is, substances that clearly foster physical dependence. That thinking, however, has changed dramatically in recent years. Individuals who suffer from behavioral disorders are also caught in an addictive cycle. The authors themselves acknowledge that cognitive distortion is a core feature of addiction. That cognitive distortion applies to behavioral addictions in the same way it applies to chemical addiction. The urge to complete a behavior, and the discomfort if prevented from doing so, resembles the craving and the withdrawal symptoms of substance abusers. New knowledge suggests that, as far as the brain is concerned, a reward's a reward, regardless of whether it comes from a chemical or an experience. And where there's a reward - as in gambling, eating, sex, or shopping - there's the risk of getting trapped in a compulsion.
Providing education, prevention, and assistance efforts to help lawyers better understand and deal with substance abuse and compulsive behaviors is of critical importance within the legal community. I hope WisLAP is willing to open its arms to people with all types of addictions, both chemical and behavioral. Otherwise, it is shining the light in only one area of this destructive problem and turning a blind eye to a huge segment of the legal population in need of assistance. If the title of the article is the intent of WisLAP, then let's truly confront the denial on all fronts and provide support across the board.
An attorney whose life has been impacted by a family member's addiction
Response: This letter makes an excellent point. There are many manifestations of addiction that we did not cover in our article. In addition, many lawyers experience anxiety, depression, relationship problems, and difficulties arising from other psychological disorders and stresses of life. To be clear, the Wisconsin Lawyers' Assistance Program (WisLAP) provides confidential assistance to attorneys who are struggling with any of these problems, including those referenced in your letter. Thank you for drawing attention to this important point as it allows us an opportunity to express that WisLAP is available to lawyers in trouble of any kind.
WisLAP is available 24/7 at (800) 543-2625.
Timothy D. Edwards and Gregory J. Van Rybroek, Madison