Help available for lawyers overcoming addiction

By Staff

Depression, anxiety and addiction to prescription drugs are a real and urgent problem for lawyers, who are three times more likely to suffer from these issues than the general public, Toronto civil litigator Darryl Singer writes in The Globe and Mail.

As Singer, principal of Singer Barristers Professional Corporation, explains, most of the lawyers he defends at Law Society of Upper Canada disciplinary proceedings got into trouble with the regulator because of substance abuse or mental-health issues.

“If you are a lawyer who is depressed or anxious, abusing alcohol or self-medicating with illicit or prescription drugs, get help. These are not problems that lawyers – or anyone – can deal with on their own. Addiction is serious business, frequently with tragic consequences,” says Singer.

And, he adds, he ought to know – for several years, Singer says he was addicted to OxyContin.

“I was called to the bar in 1993. Ten years later, I was offered a job as vice-president and general counsel of a finance company. I was making great money, but my first marriage was falling apart and I was a parent to newborn twins. I was feeling trapped, stressed and depressed.

"Plus, I hated the job – which was not the company’s fault. The convergence of a job I was not passionate about, where I felt like I was just punching the clock, a deteriorating home life, an increase in my lifelong migraines and a lengthy bout of serious depression, resulted in an OxyContin addiction that quickly spun out of control,” he writes.

Although Singer says he left the in-house counsel position in the mid-2000s to set up his own law practice, he continued to self-medicate with OxyContin, visiting a number of doctors and pharmacies in order to obtain the medication.

“I thought I was handling my addiction. But I really wasn’t. My addiction fed my depression, and my depression fed my addiction. And the more OxyContin I took, the worse things got for me. There were days when I could not get out of bed. I knew I needed to check voice mail, but my arm would not physically move to pick up the phone. When I did pick up the phone, I was incapable of dialling into voice mail. The OxyContin had turned me into a zombie,” writes Singer.

He says that his situation came to a head when it became evident that his legal work was suffering, with clients leaving 10 or 15 messages about their legal cases, and some left with no option but to file complaints with the Law Society.

“As a lawyer, a father, a person, I had reached rock bottom.

“When I finally sought treatment for my addiction, I started seeing a psychiatrist who told me that once I would stop taking the OxyContin, my depression would go away in four or five months. And it did. But at the time, it was a leap of faith for me,” writes Singer.

He says he overcame his addiction by the end of 2009 by closing his practice for about a year and devoting himself to recovery. Today, his practice is thriving, he is a more involved dad and has a happy home life, he explains.

“There is hope, but only if you take the first step. I found that contrary to my fears of being shunned and ruining my career, people rallied around and did everything they could to help me,” says Singer.

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