Work Hard/Play Hard: My Story of Addiction and Recovery (Part 1)

Contributing Author: Susan Broderick, Senior Attorney, NDAA

Credit: Neuroscience Unlimited/Stock Photo

Over the past several months, I have been invited to speak at a number of trainings and conferences for prosecutors across the country. While many of the gatherings were focused on current legislative and procedural criminal justice changes, I was asked to speak on a completely different topic — my addiction and recovery from alcohol use disorder.

Having served as a prosecutor for 14 years in Manhattan, I am well aware of the “work hard, play hard” life of a prosecutor. I did both fairly well, until the “playing” began to take its toll. While I never drank during the day or at work, I used alcohol as both a social crutch and to take the edge off of a tough day. The problem is, when you are dealing with homicides, sex crimes and child abuse, there are a lot of tough days.

Evidently however, I am not alone. According to a groundbreaking survey conducted by the American Bar Association in 2016, alcohol addiction is a widespread problem throughout the legal profession. The study found that between 21 to 36 percent of the nearly 13,000 lawyers surveyed qualified as problem drinkers.

Equally troubling was the finding that only a small percentage indicated they were willing to seek help, due in part to the stigma surrounding these issues. Unfortunately, for those with an addiction issue, not seeking help can cause more work-related problems than admitting that there is a problem and seeking help.

For many lawyers, denial remains a major factor. Individuals may look at the fact that they are still employed, haven’t lost their homes, and are still “functioning” as proof that a problem does not exist. Unfortunately, the reality is that addiction is insidious and can progress in severity even with a large case load.

If we are going to have a real impact on addressing substance use disorder (SUD) among legal professionals, we will need to increase awareness and understanding of the nature and warning signs of addiction. Perhaps even more critical, we will need to look at treatment and recovery solutions.

There have been significant scientific advances regarding the nature and progression of SUDs. As set forth by “Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health”, science has confirmed that repeated and regular misuse of alcohol and/or drugs may lead to the development of a SUD. What was long considered a moral failing or character flaw is now understood to be a chronic disease characterized by significant impairments of health, social function and voluntary control over use.

The good news is that people can and do get better. The stigma and shame surrounding addiction is being replaced by new advances in identifying critical and essential components that enhance long-term recovery outcomes (e.g. recovery capital and recovery-oriented systems of care). The concept of recovery capital is especially pertinent to the legal profession, as it focuses on the internal and external assets that exist to help initiate and sustain recovery. These include such things as pre-existing jobs, family and social relationships, education, skills and income. All of these elements can play a critical role in how we recover.

We need to shine a light on the fact that people not only recover from addiction, but they are able to thrive. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, it is quite frankly one of the bravest things a person can do. I am grateful to be back at NDAA and hope to bring more attention to this issue. Next month, I will share some of the groundbreaking studies that are emerging about recovery along with some more details about my personal journey. If you or someone in your office is interested in learning more about addressing addiction and promoting attorney wellness, please contact me at sbroderick@ndaajustice.org or call me at 703–519–1653.

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