The truth is out: doctors, lawyers, and politicians are people too. Like the rest of us, they can struggle with moderate to severe substance use disorder, and it’s about time we talk about it. Luckily, more and more professional leaders are opening up about their struggles with addiction, taking on stigma and the cultures within their professions that contributed to keeping them sick.
Brian Cuban is a lawyer-turned-advocate shedding light on the unique experiences of those in high stakes careers with substance use disorder. Here are the takeaways from his book, The Addicted Lawyer.
1. Public scrutiny won’t keep you sober.
Addiction is a brain disease, not a test of sheer will. This is why those in positions of power, with everything to lose, aren’t able to quit using and avoid public consequences. This is why an NFL coach will snort coke on camera, despite having a dream job. Substance use disorder, like other health issues, doesn’t care about your title or your parking space.
2. A high profile career isn’t a happiness guarantee.
From an outsider perspective, we glamorize the law. In The Addicted Lawyer, Brian Cuban reveals the unglamorous facts: law school is stressful, most students graduate with a lot of debt, and finding a job is hard. On TV and elsewhere in popular culture, good-looking doctors and lawyers are saving lives in snazzy outfits, but in real life, these careers can be grueling.
If you don’t handle stress well, and you’re in a stressful career, it’s okay to rethink your choices. This is your life. Spend it doing something that suits your personality, and gives you joy. As Cuban says in his book, “Careers can be paused, changed, and redirected. Lives cannot be brought back.”
3. Candor is key.
From Cuban’s story, to AA meetings, to our own Workit philosophy, we all seem to agree that the best way to heal from addiction is to start talking about it, openly and honestly. Brian Cuban says, “Sharing and hearing stories is the best way to understand my own life experience, and understanding my own experience has been instrumental in my recovery.” As someone in recovery myself, I certainly believe this to be true. Rehashing the insanity of my using, or hearing the hope of someone else’s desperate situation and the way they’ve turned their life around, is powerful.
Speaking up reminds us of the hope we find every day in recovery. Speaking up takes our history out of the dark, where we kept it hidden away when we were using. Speaking up also fights the stigma surrounding addiction that currently forces those with high stakes careers to stay silent about their potential problems. There's a popular saying in recovery: "We no longer have secrets, we have stories."
4. Stigma hurts those with high stakes careers in many ways.
Fearful for their reputations, lawyers, doctors, and others in high stakes careers may avoid seeking help and keep their problem hidden from loved ones and coworkers. Stigma also might keep someone with substance use disorder from even considering they have a problem, as they can use drugs or alcohol, but maintain a successful career, as a sign of functionality. Someone’s life may be careening out of control, but they might not identify with the traditional stereotype of a down-on-their-luck alcoholic, so may not consider they have a problem.
This means people stay in active addiction longer, and once they realize they have a problem, they may be fearful of losing their positive public reputation, or fearful of consequences from their employer, bar association, or other legal regulator.
5. A culture of “work hard, play hard,” with little self-care can feed addictions.
In law school or medical school, students aren’t focused in on sleep, healthy and balanced meals, or other basics of self-care. For those with substance use disorder, this neglect can feel like a free pass to partake in unhealthy behaviors which then continue into a career. Alcohol and drugs can take the place of healthier coping mechanisms for what becomes stressful career.
According to a 2016 Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Study (also funded by the American Bar Association), almost a third of young attorneys admitted anonymously to having a problem with alcohol, and 20% of all lawyers admit to having a drinking problem. Lawyers have problems at three times the national average. The lead of the study, Patrick Krill, noted in the Washington Post, "You put them through a training (law school) where they are taught to work harder, play harder, and assume the role of a tough, capable and aggressive professional without personal weaknesses or deficiencies."
It’s time we talk about the ways in which current culture doesn’t serve us, and we salute ‘Addicted Lawyers’ like Brian Cuban for speaking up about their experience.
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Kali Lux is a content writer and editor with a gift for breaking down big ideas into digestible bits. She loves to talk, write, and read recovery. Her short humor has been featured on McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and her BA in English is from ASU.