Open Thread: On Drinking Too Much, Jobs That Encourage Drinking, and Drinking Because of Job-Related Stress

women lawyers and drinkingDrinking and drug use can be a problem for anyone, but there have been a number of stories lately about how it’s particularly a problem for lawyers. (We’ve also talked in the past about how there are many high-achieving women who drink too much, too, and there was a great Medium post by Kristi Coulter last summer that explored the idea that “to be a modern, urbane women is to be a serious drinker.”) I asked Rebecca Berfanger to take a look into drinking advice for women lawyers and other professionals — what are the best tips out there for cutting back on your drinking? How can you navigate a culture of drinking — without getting sucked in? Readers: for those of you who have successfully moderated your drinking or stopped drinking entirely — what are your best tips? (For those of you who care to share — have you ever had a drug problem? What resources or tips do you recommend to other women in your situation?) For those of you who manage lifestyle and job-related stress in ways OTHER than drinking, what do you do instead to relax, take the edge off or “turn off work mode“? (Welcome back to Corporette®, Rebecca!) – Kat

Following a 2016 study by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, the ABA reported that “21 percent of licensed, employed lawyers qualify as problem drinkers, 28 percent struggle with some level of depression and 19 percent demonstrate symptoms of anxiety.” The study also found that “younger attorneys in the first 10 years of practice exhibit the highest incidence of these problems.”

According to a 2012 study by the ABA, many law schools offer this information at orientations and classroom presentations by the local Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) at least once a year. At those presentations, law students learn where they can go to seek help. However, the number of times law students and lawyers come into contact with their local LAP, maybe one time at orientation when they are also learning everything else they need to know to navigate the next three years and beyond, is generally outweighed by the number of receptions and networking events that include free drink tickets.

Assuming you are over 21 and are being responsible about how you will get home, and that you won’t say or do anything while drinking that could get you fired or disciplined, or cause you to be the subject of an embarrassing Above the Law post for allegedly stealing business card holders, try to remember that moderation is key.

Helpful Resources about Women and Drinking

  • To navigate drinking at networking events, Above the Law posted this handy guide, which includes knowing your limits and using your drink as a tool. For instance, needing a refill is an excellent excuse to leave a conversation. Plus, the drink line can also be a good place to meet new people at parties, as this Lifehacker post suggests.
  • If you are looking for a lifestyle change when it comes to drinking habits, blogger and author Caitlin Padgett has published Drink Less, Be More, about her own struggles with alcohol, and how she redefined her relationship with drinking without giving it up completely.
  • If you want to get sober, Belle Robertson’s blog, Tired of Thinking about Drinking, also offers some good advice and a 100-day sober challenge.
  • If you are not sure if you or someone you know needs help when it comes to alcohol abuse, check out the ABA’s list of symptoms.
  • For general advice about drinking in moderation, HealthFinder.gov, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also has a few good suggestions:

Do you think your workplace encourages a culture of drinking, ladies — or did you see it more at the school level? How do you navigate a culture of drinking, such as at networking events and business lunches? Do you drink sparkling water or cranberry juice with a twist of lime to make it appear like you are drinking alcohol when everyone around you is imbibing? Do you feel more pressure to drink with certain clients or coworkers? 

Picture via Stencil.women lawyers and drinking problems

Everywhere you turn there's another news article about how lawyers have alcohol and drug problems -- as well as how overachieving women tend to be heavy drinkers also. We talked with our audience of professionals and women lawyers about drinking problems, moderation attempts, sobriety, and more.

Comments

  1. Turns out, we feel so much better when we don’t drink. Sleep better, remember more, spend less money, consume fewer (dumb) calories. And we feel proud of ourselves. Sobriety = it’s not just for alcoholics any more …

    • I stopped drinking last month in an attempt to minimize my migraines. I was making big changes at the time anyway, so it wasn’t that difficult. It’s strange to go out with friends and coworkers and have water when everyone else is drinking. Also you notice how boring everyone is when they start to have too much alcohol. But overall I don’t really miss it. And I do sleep and feel better.

    • Anonymous :

      Please stop using “we.”

    • Sloan Sabbith :

      What the…what? Sobriety has never just been for alcoholics, what in the world is your blog and why are you saying we? Yeah. Drinking can have negative health impacts but it can also be fine.

      • Anonymous :

        Yup. My nightly glass of wine? I’m delighted to use the calories on it, it doesn’t impact my sleep, I take pride in myself for the things I do and the person I am not what I consume.

    • Anonymous :

      I’m glad this has worked for you, but no need to be self-righteous.

    • Frozen Peach :

      Ugh. I am in recovery and I hate this shhhhh. I have zero problem with drinking, unless it’s me doing the drinking! Please don’t contribute to the stereotype that all sober people are evangelists against booze. I think alcohol can be pretty wonderful– as long as I don’t have to consume it myself! This stereotype of sober people as drinking-haters and shamers probably keeps more alcoholics drinking than any # of people it helps.

    • Anonymous :

      I was sober (Mormon upbringing) until my late 20s and I feel better when I drink. I find it easier to make connections with other humans, sometimes in ways that have lead to very meaningful and real friendships, I learn new things (wine is fascinating), I’m less likely to spend my evenings at home buying clothes on the internet I don’t need, and my cup size went from a B to a C. And I feel really proud of myself for breaking out of the religious tradition I was raised in but that was suffocating me emotionally and professionally – every time I drink is a reminder from how far I have come. Is my case a bit extreme? Yes, but this is why *we* should maybe only speak for our own experiences…

    • Legal Cancuk :

      I don’t drink, not because I am holier than thou, not because I am recovering, but because I don’t like the taste. I have tried beer, wine, spirits, hard liquor, and it doesn’t do anything for me. I would rather a nice cup of coffee or tea instead. My co-workers think I am part alien because of this. I don’t mind when other people drink around me just don’t hassle me about not-drinking.

  2. Anonymous :

    I like to drink but I really only do it socially – I never come home after a long day and have a drink alone. I manage stress by eating and spending money, and I don’t know if those are better than drinking, ha.

    • Every time I cut back on drinking (my one glass of wine at night a couple times a week, and maybe two beers on a weekend evening) I end up eating WAYYYY more calories and shopping online. As far as vices go, my 6-8 drinks a week is one of the healthier ones for me.

      • just the opposite :

        The second alcohol passes my lips, all inhibitions for eating go out the door. I eat tons more when I drink.

  3. anonymous :

    TJ: Apologies for opening with a threadjack! I am looking for advice on how to handle/approach a coworker. My coworker is really into essential oils and uses them in her office with some sort of diffuser. I am in the office next to hers and some days (or some scents?) the smell really gets to me, especially if I already have a headache (today). Our boss has somewhat encouraged it by allowing the coworker to host a party in the office and using the oils in her own office. I am a big coward and have avoided saying anything, but I’m wondering if I should. Have I been silent for too long and missed my chance? Should I suck it up since it doesn’t always bother me, or should I just say something on days it does? Any tips on what to say? The coworker is somewhat moody and I don’t want to cause an issue because I currently have a good rapport with her.

    • I just dealt with this issue at my office. I asked my boss to announce something at our quarterly staff meeting. He handled it very graciously and provided a rambling story about allergies and how he gets sniffles and whatnot. I’m landlocked by people who wear perfume and cologne and they cause me literal pain. I shouldn’t have to take numerous pills to deal with their non-essential grooming habits. With boss’ permission, I’m going to take it to our business manager and hopefully get a policy going. All coworkers should be unscented.

    • Marshmallow :

      You might want to repost this on the coffee break thread that just went up.

      A “party”… is this MLM? Gah!

    • Anonymous :

      I have told coworkers (because it was true) that I already take allergy meds, but that it was really burning my sinuses and giving me headaches. And made it sound like I liked the fragrance, but just that it was bothering me, so it doesn’t come across as your just not liking their tastes. Smells like that are really inappropriate for the office – I have talked to coworkers about over-perfuming and using air fresheners or candles. Wait until she’s in a good mood?

    • Anonymous :

      Go to HR.

  4. So I am a lawyer, and my office colleagues give me guff because many of my closer friends are bartenders. I’ve spent much of the last 5 years working LONG hours, and when you are single and are only leaving the office at 10PM…where else are you going to find human companionship? That said, I’ve managed to keep my drinking in line by:

    – Focusing on quality. This is key. I can get a full hour’s enjoyment from a lovely rye Manhattan.
    – Rarely have more than 2 drinks in a night and never have more than 3 (and 3 only with a meal/activity like dancing).
    – Generally do not drink at home alone. Funnily enough I have a decent stash of wine, whiskeys, etc., at home but find they accrue in my basement and fridge because I never have anybody over.
    – When I DO find myself home alone and want a nip of something…I keep 2-3 bottles of high quality vermouth in my fridge. I will pour myself an ounce or so, and take microsips – generally when cooking.

    This has worked for me. Honestly the real danger for me has been sticking to these rules when I am dating a man…I’ve had to get used to being out of rhythm with male drinking companions generally. Once I had a first date with a guy and it REALLY bothered him that I didn’t order another drink when he did – even though I explained in advance that I had to limit my consumption that night. Next:)

    • You must be VERY careful when you drink with men. We weigh alot less and we get drunk faster then men who are heavier then we are. I remember Sheketovits said he could drink me under the table, and literaly, he was right b/c he had a big gut and tuchus where the drinks went. I am svelte, other then my tuchus, and only weigh 112 lbs. Dad wants me down to 100, but that is to thin. Rosa weighs 100 but she works out and does NOT sit all day on her tuchus.

      So watch it if you do drink with men b/c you could wind up drunk and in their apartement, and that is NOT good for us as ladies trying to retain our reputation as attorneys and counselors at law. FOOEY!

    • MineAllMine :

      I agree, having sensible rules helps me keep track of my drinking, not because it’s out of control, but because I just don’t want my very occasional drink to creep up by accident. On purpose is fine :)

      What the what with the guy who expected you to match him drink for drink? Next indeed. Luckily I’m a slow drinker so I’m always out of sync on rounds, which is why I try to buy the first one. Never feel like you have to keep up with anyone!

  5. I’ve been easing back on my drinking for years from it’s peak when I was in law school and regularly put away a bottle of wine myself in a night, if not more. These days I tend to have maybe 4-6 drinks in a week, which I’m comfortable with. I did it for a number of reasons: I left a city with good public transit to move to one with almost none, so I had to drive more, which requires sobriety; as I left my 20’s and entered my 30’s my hangovers have gotten steadily worse; at the same time my metabolism has slowed and the empty calories don’t burn off like they used to; and in the past couple of years I’ve gotten more serious about saving every extra cent I can for early retirement, and booze is expensive.

    If I’m at a networking event and don’t want to drink I usually get a glass of sparkling water. I like the taste, and you need something to drink while at those events just to keep your throat from drying out from all the gabbing. The easiest way for me to relax and not think about work these days is to do something that doesn’t involve a screen. Rock climbing, a yoga class, reading an actual book with the phone on do not disturb and face down across the room, playing board games with my SO, etc. etc. The key is: no damn screens. The actual activity doesn’t matter that much.

    • alternating sparkling water/club soda/seltzer/coke with a garnish for every other drink is also a tremendously helpful trick at networking events where you’re up against a bunch of hard drinkers (i work in oil and gas, so i am all the time. ugh). it’s mostly useful if your usual is a similar-appearing drink, i.e. G&T or jack & coke, so everyone assumes that’s what your next drink was. plus, the bartenders always seem to be on my wavelength, especially if i ask for a garnish – most female bartenders will go out of their way to make my fake drink seem “real.”

      • I mean, I get what you’re saying, but I’m also in oil and gas and I feel absolutely no need to pretend I’m drinking alcohol when I’m not. I order water at the same volume as wine. Seriously, there is no need to hide that you’re not drinking booze. There really is not.

        • Exactly. The response to a person who gives you the side-eye because you’re not drinking isn’t “let me figure out a beverage that will trick them into thinking I’m drinking.” The response is to realize – this is a person with a troubled relationship with alcohol, who wants to know that everyone else around her is drinking because that makes her feel better about her own quantity of drinking, and then to realize that that is her problem, not yours. Get your water or iced tea or Coke or whatever the heck you like and don’t give it a second thought; the kinds of people who care that you are drinking are either secret lushes or losers.

      • MineAllMine :

        While I agree with Torin and Susan that one should t have to pretend to drink, I think genabee’s point is a good one in some circumstances. Pick your battle. Building comraderie with coworkers is important, and in some situations it makes sense to not be obvious that you’re not partying along with the rest. Sure, the hard drinker might be a ‘loser’ or lush, but if s/he is your boss, you don’t want to be perceived as judgemental about a few drinks. My last boss was a hard drinking, but fun when drunk, woman, and it wouldn’t have made sense to ruin her mood so to speak by making it obvious I wasn’t keeping up. Know your culture, and if a lime in sparkling water eases the evening, then cheers.

  6. I was such a heavy drinker in college. I think I drank six days a week. I cut it all out my senior year and my tolerance plummeted. My first job relied heavily on networking, and a lot of our team building activities were alcohol related. I was SO insecure about drinking at work. Drinking has always been embarrassing postgrad; I’m Asian, and people will always ask if I need to sit down or have someone drive me home even when I’ve only had one glass of wine. Now I usually will either ask for a very small portion of wine or fake drink. If I know I’ll be drinking with coworkers or clients, I chew on Tums in between drinks.

  7. Green Hat :

    Before having a kid, I didn’t drink much alone, but I always had at least 3 drinks when going out with friends or co-workers, which was at least once but usually twice per week. At the time, I thought I needed that level of drinking to really unwind. Now that I have a kid and only occasionally go to social events where I’m drinking, I realize that I was using drinking as a crutch to make myself more comfortable in social situations. I enjoy having one drink 2-3 nights per week now, and when I’m out I try to focus on improving my conversational/small-talk skills rather than relying on alcohol to do that for me.

  8. Ok so I’m not a lawyer. I work in finance serving Fortune 500 clients. Our industry is very heavily client-entertainment focused.

    When I first started with the company expense accounts were liberal. Even though I was on the staff side and usually not client facing, any night of the week I could go across the street to a favorite bar and someone would have their expense account open. I could drink any night I wanted to, and our culture actively encouraged this (not least because at the time I was young, cute and female, and that certainly didn’t hurt them with the clients.)

    My personal life was crappy at the time on many levels, so I became sort of a regular at these events. It wasn’t every night of the week, but when I did go, I drank too much, as did pretty much everyone else in my group. I also ate crappy fried bar food for many, many boozy dinners.

    For me, this was the definition of work encouraging drinking. Yes, I was free to skip it, but those who partied were in the inner circle in terms of leadership/management, and those who didn’t party were on the outside.

    I stopped doing this on the regular when I got married and had kids.

    And here’s how sexism works. The dudes were already married, or if they weren’t, they got married around the time I did. It did not slow them down one bit. Still in the inner circle, still buddies with the leadership, still heavily drinking, though expense accounts really tightened up during the global recession.

    I’m glad for my own health that all of that stopped but it left me on the outside looking in and I just wish this dynamic didn’t exist.

    • MineAllMine :

      +1 especially for the comment about about sexism. Too many business cultures are set up like this with BS social expectations, so that women get mommy tracked despite being as good or better than male colleagues whose wives are taking care of the kids.

  9. Anonymous :

    I like to drink wine when I get home. I usually limit it to two glasses, but probably once a week I will drink an entire bottle by myself. It is all to take the edge off of stress both from work and in my personal life. Although lately, I have been trying to cut back on calories and so I have not had my nightly glass. I do still feel the need to have something when I get home from work and so that has become diet coke. I don’t think that is good for me either, so I’m going to try and switch to sparkling water instead. I do sort of miss my nightly wine though. . .

    • Wow – this is terrifying, in that I could have written this word for word (down to the diet coke!)

      The only thing that has helped me cut down on my drinking is the realization of how many calories I’m consuming… losing weight is hard enough as it is

  10. I used to have a nightly cocktail, but alcohol messes with my sleep and I get up very early to exercise. Weeknight drinking isn’t a big part of my office culture – frankly, because people work *super* hard, no one has time to go to happy hour – and if we have a weeknight event, no one blinks at soda water and lime or even a soft drink instead of a cocktail.

    Snuggling my puppy is way more relaxing than wine ever was for me. As soon as I get home and put down my bags, the little dude gets his tummy rub and ear scritches, and then we head out for a stroll. Works like a charm.

  11. Anonymous :

    I’m happy with how much I drink. And grateful that I can drink alcohol in moderation without worry. I genuinely enjoy my glass of wine with dinner and more than that when out with friends without problems.

  12. I average about 10 drinks a week, and I rarely have more than 2 in one day. I go to a lot of happy hours, many of them networking-related, and this level of socialization has definitely been good for my career.

    I was closer to 15 drinks a week for a while but it was starting to impact my sleep habits as well as my weight (and my budget). I’m pretty happy with my current consumption, but I have been thinking through whether cutting back further might be better for my long-term health. I don’t drink to blow off steam, but I do really enjoy having a nice cocktail or a good glass of wine in a social setting, and it’s not something I want to give up. I would be so happy if alcohol was good for you…

    • MineAllMine :

      You can try cutting back for while, long enough so that you get through the awkward phase of breaking the habit, and see what it does for you. No need to be all or nothing, or even for long term. Here in the U.K., it’s pretty common for people to take January off from drinking to reset from holiday fun drinking levels.

  13. Not a lawyer here but I want to recommend the book A Girl Walks Out of a Bar by Lisa Smith, a former (and maybe still) lawyer who wrote about her alcohol and drug addiction while working in law. I’m seven months sober and have been reading tons of addiction memoirs – this has been one of my favorites.

  14. I’ll be a year sober next week. It started as a 30 day challenge, and then I saw the benefits and decided to continue. One of the best decisions I ever made! Everyone is different, but for me I was sick of spending the mental energy on hangovers, worrying if I said/did something stupid, etc.

    I work in tech and my home office has been very good about me not drinking. I just grab something else (seltzer, tea, etc) instead. During conferences I walk away from my group and flag the bartender to make me something that looks like a drink. I tip really well – the tip + my faux drinks always turns out cheaper than a night out drinking. Hope my experience helps!

  15. I try not to let my work drive me to drink. Instead, I do things that I love, like spending time with my son, dancing, going to concerts, and just relaxing. No matter what kind of job you have, you must make time for yourself to just relax and get your mind right. Anytime someone drinks based off of emotions, that’s a problem. I think you should seek help if you’re an emotional drinker. It’s so necessary.

  16. Anonymous :

    This post was helpful for me; I really appreciated seeing the other comments from others about their drinking (or sober) habits and experiences, and the resources provided as links. It is striking to me that there were so few comments on this post relative to other posts. I was also struck by the aggression/snark/defensiveness in some of the comments.

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