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County Bar Assn. Holding a Brief for Sobriety

January 24, 1985|JOHN DREYFUSS | Times Staff Writer

He started in high school with "a few beers after games." Soon it was Seagram's 7 and 7-Up. Through college and law school he continued drinking. He became an attorney, and the alcohol still flowed.

Then, when he was about 30, he would "get up in the morning and talk to myself in the kitchen, asking if I should apologize now or wait a few days."

The apologies were to friends he'd insulted the night before, using foul language and nasty, belittling remarks. Making enemies of friends.

He'd been drunk. He was, in fact, drunk a lot of the time.

A competent lawyer, a respected member of his community, his liquor was the best. At his favorite restaurants, waitresses would appear bearing "two Chivas rocks" without being asked.

He'd begin at lunch, where liquor was an acceptable part of the business day. He surrounded himself with like-minded drinkers.

But friends became distant. Calls were not returned. Driving and drinking got to be frequent companions.

Cocaine With Booze Cocaine teamed with booze as a regular part of daily life.

But he was a successful lawyer, a professional man. "I drink, but I'm in control," he thought.

More friends dropped from his life. He creased his car fender on a post. His wife told him about things he'd done that he couldn't remember.

"I'm in control," he told himself. But now he knew he was lying. A man in control doesn't come home and pass out at 7 p.m. almost every night.

"It was just a matter of time before I'd have killed somebody (while driving drunk) or gone to jail. I wouldn't want to live after having killed somebody," he told an acquaintance.

A year and a half ago he called Alcoholics Anonymous. He agreed to a meeting date. And he never went to the meeting.

Six months later he made another call. This time he dialed 1-800-221-0942, a number he found in an editorial in the Los Angeles County Bar Assn.'s monthly newsletter. The number belongs to the ESSCO (for Employee Support Systems Co.), a professional consulting firm retained by the County Bar to implement its alcohol and drug abuse program since the program's inception in September, 1983.

He made an appointment for Jan. 10, 1984, to talk with a counselor.

On Jan. 9 the lawyer drank most of a liter of wine for lunch. After lunch, driving back to his office, he stopped at a bar. He stayed there until 9 p.m., drinking.

"I got to the point where I couldn't talk. I had to drive home that night because I couldn't walk. If I'd been picked up, I'd have been a .4 or a .5." If he'd been a .1 on the police breath/blood alcohol test, he'd have been legally considered to be under the influence of alcohol. At .5, it's likely he'd have been a corpse.

Paralyzed by Paranoia The next day, all but paralyzed by paranoia ("Who'll find out?") he met with an ESSCO counselor.

He hasn't touched alcohol or cocaine since. He jogs. He practices law. He's helping other recovering alcoholics, some of whom are old business acquaintances. Friends don't mysteriously vanish. No one gets verbally abused. He's making 50% more money than he did before because, he says, "I'm doing a better job for my clients."

And, perhaps most important, "I'm doing things with my family." This from a man who was in the habit of passing out early in the evening before he had a chance to do anything with anyone.

He is not an unusual man.

Between 50% and 70% of lawyers' disciplinary cases in California and New York involve alcohol problems, according to an American Bar Assn. study.

Judicial tenure commissions have reported that about 25% of their disciplinary cases involve alcoholism, the report said.

Alcohol and drug abuse among lawyers is estimated at three times that of the general population by ESSCO president Norman N. Huneycutt.

"The figure often used for the general population is that one of every 10 people who drink will become an alcoholic," Huneycutt said.

"In the professions, particularly in the legal and medical communities, that estimate goes up significantly because of life styles and work pressures; some estimates have been as high as that one of every three doctors and lawyers are serious abusers of alcohol and/or drugs. I would say those estimates are correct," added the head of the City of Orange-based organization that runs alcohol and drug abuse programs for about 50 companies, including Anheuser-Busch Inc., the Automobile Club of Southern California, Dean Witter Financial Services Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Hyatt Hotels Corp., Pacific Southwest Airlines and Transamerica Occidental Life Insurance Co.

When Huneycutt talks about lawyers' life styles encouraging drinking, he isn't necessarily talking about lunches, after hours or weekends.

"It's very common for law firms to have their own bars in their conference rooms," said Timi Anyon Hallem, a partner in the law firm of Tuttle & Taylor, and co-chair of the County Bar's alcohol and drug abuse program. "It's also common for the partners, or sometimes all the firm's lawyers, to get together on Friday afternoons and unwind in those bars."

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