Substance Abuse

Alcoholism and Drug Abuse…It’s All Addiction


Alcoholism is a brain disease, not a moral issue or behavior. Studies in both Washington and Arizona show that judges and lawyers suffer from a higher rate of alcoholism than the general population.

While approximately 10 percent of the population suffers from alcoholism, the number jumps to almost 20 percent in the legal profession. This higher rate of alcoholism in judges and lawyers may explain the higher rates of clinical depression among this population. While there are differences in the effect of one substance over another, the process of addiction in a human’s body is similar. As one client recently quoted to me, “You do anything long enough to escape the habit of living…until the escape becomes the habit.”

How Does the Brain Become Addicted?

Typically it happens like this:

  • A person takes a drug of abuse, be it marijuana or cocaine or even alcohol, activating the same brain circuits as do behaviors linked to survival, such as eating, bonding and sex. The drug causes a surge in levels of a brain chemical called dopamine, which results in feelings of pleasure. The brain remembers this pleasure and wants it repeated.
  • Just as food is linked to survival in day-to-day living, drugs begin to take on the same significance for the addict. The need to obtain and take drugs becomes more important than any other need, including truly vital behaviors like eating. The addict no longer seeks the drug for pleasure, but for relieving distress.
  • Eventually, the drive to seek and use the drug is all that matters, despite devastating consequences.
  • Finally, control and choice and everything that once held value in a person’s life, such as family, job and community, are lost to the disease of addiction.

Go to: The Addiction Project Online
Addiction and the Brain’s Pathway: Beyond Willpower

Articles of Interest

Go to:

Timothy D. Edwards & Gregory J. Van Rybroek, Addiction and Attorneys: Confronting the Denial, Wisconsin Lawyer (August 2007).

Mary Greiner, Demystifying 12-Step Programs, GPSolo Magazine (July/August 2001).

Jeanne Marie Leslie, Understanding Addiction, Helping Clients and Colleagues, The Alabama Lawyer (September 2008).

Cindy McAlpin, Out of the Shadows: Women and Addiction, GPSolo Magazine (October/November 2006).

Kevin T. McCauley, M.D., Is Addiction Really a Disease, Texas Bar Journal (July 2004).