Hazelden lines up new help for attorney addicts

  • Article by: WENDY LEE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 6, 2011 - 10:11 PM

The program, likely the state's first, targets a high-pressure career often fueled by drugs and alcohol.

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Chuck Rice, a former addict, in a meditation room on the Hazelden campus.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Hidden under the high-pressure, high-stakes life of a lawyer can be the need for a debilitating crutch.

When Chuck Rice was a corporate defense lawyer, it was alcohol and cocaine.

It's a frequent but little-known problem among lawyers, who are nearly twice as likely to abuse alcohol as the general population and also suffer an elevated rate of depression.

Rice spun through treatment twice after colleagues urged him to seek help. But each time he returned to the same long hours and crushing pressure, only to relapse. He finally overcame his addictions 15 years ago with help from Hazelden, the treatment center near Center City, Minn.

Now, the institution is launching a program that specifically targets the legal community, with Rice as one of the counselors. "Attorneys have high-stress jobs. They have unreasonable expectations on how much they can hoist on their shoulders," said Rice, a chemical dependency unit supervisor at Hazelden. "Some of the qualities that attorneys have that make them good attorneys, make them really bad at self care."

Attorneys entering Hazelden's program would go through the same treatment as others but would have additional services specific to their profession. They would attend a legal professionals group therapy session once a week and go to the Twin Cities for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings consisting of people primarily in the legal profession. Minnesota Lawyers Concerned For Lawyers, an assistance group, would also provide mentors.

Addiction experts said the lawyer-centric program, costing $28,300 for 28 days of treatment, is probably the first of its kind in the state. And unlike other programs, Hazelden said it offers clinicians who are licensed attorneys. The program's director is Link Christin, an adjunct professor at the William Mitchell College of Law and a former alcoholic.

'A lot of stigma'

"There is a lot of stigma in the profession," said Joan Bibelhausen, executive director of Minnesota Lawyers Concerned For Lawyers. "We're used to being the ones who can solve the problem. We always think we can fix everything, so it's hard to ask for help, because we're the help."

Other treatment centers have launched similar programs specific to occupations.

The Betty Ford Center, an addiction-treatment hospital in California, has a licensed professionals program with 150 to 300 individuals such as doctors, pilots and attorneys each year.

"We put them together and have seen it work very well. They hold each other to a higher degree of accountability," said Dr. Harry Haroutunian, who heads the program. "The narcissistic neurosurgeon who thinks of himself as a 'capital M and capital D' deity, because he has one person on the table with his life in his hands, sometimes experiences enormous humility when he talks to a 747 captain who at any point in time might have 200 to 300 people's lives in his hands. Now, the neurosurgeon is not such a big shot anymore."

Some officials at local hospitals with generalized treatment programs questioned the benefits of profession-specific programs. Jeff Powers, Fairview's adult chemical dependency program director, said he wasn't aware of any clinical data showing separating addiction patients by profession has a better success rate.

'Purely marketing'?

Powers said he believes his program offers good value to patients, costing $12,600 for a three-week residential program.

"It's just taking it to a level of specialization where there is really no proof or evidence that it's superior," Powers said. "It's purely marketing."

In any case, it appears to be a real market as studies have long documented the problem. In one published in 1990 by the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 18 percent of attorneys were considered "problem drinkers," nearly twice the rate for U.S. adults. Johns Hopkins University researchers found in 1990 that lawyers were one of three professions to have "statistically significant elevations" in their rate for major depressive disorder.

In recent years, Bibelhausen said, the number of attorneys seeking her group's services has increased. Part of that might be from economy pressures, family issues or problems in the job hunt, she said.

Hazelden said that even before the new program, about 40 attorneys sought treatment there each year.

Before Geoff Saltzstein got into law school, he drank heavily as he struggled to find what he what he wanted to do in life. At Hazelden, Saltzstein was counseled by Rice. Saltzstein is now an associate at Appelman Law Firm and sober for five and half years.

"I think it's great," Saltzstein said about Hazelden's new program. "There are some special challenges that attorneys may face when trying to get into recovery. It provides them a place where they can be with their peers and understand what they're going through."

Star Tribune staff writer Rochelle Olson contributed to this report. Wendy Lee • 612-673-1712

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