Help For Lawyers and Students With Addiction

Joseph Grillo, M.D.

As I’ve gone through law school, I’ve been surprised by a few things. First, the law professors that I’ve encountered are some of the finest and most dedicated professionals that I have encountered in my lifetime. Next, I found that the same holds true for just about every lawyer that I’ve come across in the community. This was a surprise because, like many, I thought that lawyers held a position right next to the car salesman in society. I envisioned the picture of the lawyer on the billboard, pointing his finger, and promising to get you lots of money for your slip and fall. This image and perception are unfortunate because the finest people that I know and whom I most admire are certain law professors and lawyers. The first year professors at U Mass were truly awesome – each in their own way – they are dedicated educators. My mentor, Professor Richard Peltz-Steele, a nationally renowned, well-established professor, has made the learning of tort law a rich and enjoyable experience. His kind-heartedness and classroom acumen has provided me the drive towards tort law. Mr. Ron Resmini, whom I’ve know from my years as a community doctor – I’ve seen him help others on so many occasions. No matter what the issue is, Mr. Resmini will do anything that he can to help.

My perceptions aside, lawyers are frequently subject to ridicule and scorn by the general public, but behind the jokes and banter, I’ve come to find out they are known for their relentless work in confusing and complicated legal matters.

My experience is that a skewed lifestyle has its origins in law school (or medical school in my case). To provide some backdrop – I am an older person, a recovering alcoholic who has been delegated by my peers as being “just another bozo on the bus” – a place that I value.

Experience has shown me that law school students are forced by necessity to push themselves beyond their mental and physical limitations. Part in parcel has been my witnessing of an inordinate amount of substance abuse – substances of all kind – alcohol, Adderall and cocaine to name a few.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, lawyers have amongst the highest rates of suicide, along with healthcare professionals. Whereas physicians have a fairly extensive network to reach out to for help, lawyers have minimal resources. Lawyers are often left (or outright told) to look out for themselves.

Studies are clear – addiction in the legal profession is a massive problem that has marginalized or destroyed many promising careers and has cut many lives short. Unsurprisingly, this line of work takes an incredible toll on people. The Journal of Occupational Medicine noted that lawyers are 3.6 times more likely than employees in other professions to develop major depressive disorder. Canada’s Legal Professional Assistance Conference noted that a symptom of this strain is that “the legal profession has a rate of alcoholism significantly higher than the general adult population,” with alcoholism making up as much as 95 percent of all forms of substance abuse among lawyers and judges. Lawyers are two times more likely to abuse alcohol than workers in other jobs, and as far back as 1996, a study by the Law Society of Upper Canada discovered that as many as half the lawyers who were facing some form of disciplinary action reported that abuse of drugs and alcohol played a role in their conduct.

Students and lawyers alike are very unwilling to reach out for help. They are afraid of the stigma associated with admitting “weakness.” This is not altogether unfounded. The world is highly competitive for law students. Jobs and clerkships are difficult to come by. No doubt it’s so easy to pass judgment on one another “to win the rat-race.”

With this in mind, here’s my bottom line. Being open with my “issues” have been the right move for me. A number of my peers have reached out for help. I was amazed – but a few students recognized their problems and came calling. How great for me! I’ve become good at a few things in life – namely, I know how to be a drunk. But I also know how to get sober! This I can teach – and I have done so.

I am available to anyone out there who may need a hand. If you are suffering from addiction, you needn’t go it alone. I stand with you ready to do whatever is necessary for you to escape the hellhole of active addiction. I’m a doctor and a recovering addict. I am the same as you. Please know that what transpires between us will be entirely confidential. I will never under any circumstances disclose your private affairs, period! The only limited exception would be if you revealed that you were suicidal and had an immediate plan to carry out suicide. Both of those would have to be present. If you need a hand, please reach out!

All of this presupposes that I will stay sober. I am all too aware that there is no guarantee. Thus far, what has worked for me is to assist people like you. When I step outside of myself – stop worrying and thinking about myself – I am in the right place. Please don’t think twice about calling me anytime. (401) 954-2352.

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