Alcoholic Attorneys Hit Bottom

You hit bottom when you stop digging.

Alcoholics, including alcoholic attorneys spend a good bit of time discussing how they “hit bottom.” Some people have “hard,” or “low” bottoms. Others have “soft” or “high” bottoms. The reason for this is simple: you hit bottom when you stop digging.

I didn’t get a DUI. I didn’t have the allergic reaction that finds many alcoholics “breaking out in a bad case of handcuffs.” I didn’t lose my spouse or kids. I didn’t lose my practice. What I lost was my ability to manage the day-to-day events of life without drinking, and in spite of my best efforts, it was getting worse.


I found this paragraph in a story about another (non-attorney) alcoholic that explains my feelings perfectly.

Above all, I was suffering inner pain because my performance and my accomplishments in life failed to live up to my own expectations of myself. I had to anesthetize that pain with alcohol. Of course, the more I drank, the more unrealistic my expectations became and the poorer my performance, and the gap widened. So the need to drink grew still greater.

That was me, but it wasn’t just me—I’m not as unique as I used to think—it was some stranger in a book with the same metabolic reaction to the chemical called “alcohol.”  I’ve since found that thousands of people share this feeling, many of them alcoholic attorneys.

Sarah Allen Benton nailed my life in her wonderfully helpful book Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic. She defines “hitting bottom” as

the point to which an alcoholic’s life and/or emotions must sink before he or she is willing and able to admit that he or she has a problem and is receptive to getting help.

That definition is spot-on, but she goes on to list some characteristics of “high-functioning” alcoholics:

  • Denial
  • Living a double life of inward feeling compared with outward image
  • Drinking habits including cravings and black-outs
  • Capable of staying employed and high academic achievement
  • Capable of sustained interpersonal relationships
  • Often able to work the system in legal matters relating to issues caused by drinking
  • Often hit bottoms, but are unable to recognize or admit the realities
  • Appear physically well-groomed.

Check. Check. Check. Check.  I found myself putting a lot of check marks in the book next to the traits that I personified. My highlighters ran dry quickly. I was finally willing to ask for and accept help from people who knew (FAR, FAR better than I as it turns out) what to do. There is a solution.

What’s it going to take?

What’s it going to take for you to ask for the help you need or confront the person in your office or circle of friends?

  • DUI?
  • Sanction or suspension?
  • Arrested in a bar fight or other physical assault situation?
  • Broken marriage?
  • Hurt children?
  • Sexually transmitted disease?
  • Sexual assault?
  • Waking up nude in a strange place with a strange person?

These are the events many alcoholics, both male and female, share as “bottoms.” They are not fiction, and they can happen to you.

How’s that workin’ for ya?

You’ve tried to control your drinking on your own. You’ve tried just drinking beer instead of whiskey.  You’ve tried only wine instead of vodka. You’ve tried abstaining on Mondays—maybe event Tuesdays and Wednesdays. You’ve understood that some of these “bottoms” might be in your future and the way your aproaching life and your drinking right now isn’t working. It’s only a matter of time and chance before you get caught driving drunk or sleep with someone knowing your decisions will end your marriage and hurt your kids.

What you’re doing just ain’t workin’ for ya.

Maybe the braver, smarter, more professional thing is to admit that your situation is bad enough right now, that alcohol doesn’t make things easier or better, and that it’s time to stop digging.

(photo credit:


  1. Avatar SoberLawyer says:

    Thank you for addressing the huge problem of addiction within the ranks of attorneys! The vast majority of us are high-functioning, high bottom alcoholics, but we can still do a ton of damage to our careers, families and personal lives.

    I, too, am a recovering alcoholic attorney. I am grateful and lucky that I found recovery before I did irreparable damage to my career (although I do have a DUI). I blog here:

    I attended the new Hazelden program for legal professionals which was amazing. You guys should write about it.

    Anyways, I can be reached on twitter at

    One day at a time…

    ~Dick, Recovery Alcoholic

  2. Avatar Sam says:

    Good article. I had a short, nightmare job as a paralegal with an alcoholic/addict attorney recently. I’ve never seen so many problems caused by a person’s addiction, drama, financial chaos, lack of boundaries, ethics violations.

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