An authority on male eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder, Brian Cuban is an author and sought-after public speaker. He’s in recovery from drug addiction, alcoholism, an eating disorder and practicing law. In his newest book, The Addicted Lawyer (Post Hill Press, release date June 13, 2017), Cuban explores his own foray into a legal career, the prevalence among lawyers toward addiction and the intense fear for individuals in this field around seeking help.
Your official sobriety date is April 8, 2007. Do you have an official date that marks the end of your legal career?
Around 2008 or 2009, I stopped practicing law. My legal career kind of died during my addiction. I really can’t say there was a bright line demarcation; it was more that I had lost all my clients. I eventually just transitioned into something that made me happier.
Since you haven’t been actively practicing law for a few years, what inspired you now to venture into writing about addiction in the legal field?
As I went through my struggles and recovery, I noticed there was a tendency within the legal profession to avoid seeking help. I noticed a culture of fear. I took stock of my life in law school and realized how little help there was at that time. I decided there was a book that needed to be written. In a very timely fashion, the Hazelden Betty Ford ABA study came out with the finding that one in three licensed attorneys is a problem drinker. I had started writing the book well before that, so it was a fortuitous thing.
You write, “Although the thought of law school had never crossed my mind before that moment, it instantly became an appealing option; not because I wanted to be a lawyer, but because I saw the opportunity to spend three more years hiding from myself.” I think this is a very relatable sentiment to people struggling with addiction and substance use disorder. When and how did you have this revelation?
I was a criminal justice major at Penn State in 1983, and I was a senior, waiting in the placement office of my major, lamenting what I was going to do with my life, and afraid of the real world. I was even terrified of going outside.
I was an alcoholic. I was bulimic and also exercise bulimic. My days were spent running, drinking, sleeping it off and isolating. I didn’t have the necessary skills to function in the workforce. I certainly didn’t have effective coping skills. I heard a couple of guys talking about going to law school. It seemed to be a perfect solution; I could drink, run and isolate. It’s not an uncommon thought process in addiction. The stress and nature of law school never entered my mind. It was all about survival, repeating the cycle.
Do you think the substance abuse issues often associated with lawyers applies to most high-stress, high profile professions? What issues are unique to lawyers?
Of course, every profession comes with its own unique stressors. Law is no different. Both the stress and the culture of fear around seeking help are problematic. Lawyers have a higher rate of alcohol use than doctors. That tells you something. The law profession attracts type-A personalities who may be susceptible to more substance abuse issues.
Lawyers in general seem to feel the need to portray invulnerability, and many do not seek help until things blow up in their faces. One of the hardest conversations I have with lawyers is convincing them that it’s better to do something now than to wait until something bad happens that may put their life, family or freedom at risk.
How do you think the legal profession enables addiction?
There is certainly a systemic culture of drinking throughout the profession that begins in law school. It will take education and work to turn that around. When you combine this with the culture of fear within the profession around loss of clients, licenses and prestige, and an inability to maintain a certain lifestyle, it means addicted lawyers often take longer to seek out help.
Every state has a legal assistance program that’s confidential and protected by statute. Lawyers are afraid that if they use such programs, the bar may find out, and they could lose their jobs.
You write, “We must challenge prevailing attitudes and behaviors that simultaneously encourage unhealthy lifestyles while discouraging help-seeking.” Can you elaborate on this and how it applies to the legal field and law school in particular?
This is my major initiative. I wrote this book to change prevailing attitudes and behaviors. I regularly speak with many law school deans who are working hard to change them. There has to be a user-friendly pipeline from mental health to law schools so people aren’t afraid of the negative consequences of seeking help.
One man you interviewed dropped out of NYU law school to go to treatment; then, he returned to finish law school at Stanford years later, which is so inspiring!
That’s a great example. Whether in law school or the collegiate community, dropping out is one of the biggest fears. I want people to know that you can pause to take care of mental health and make it back. It’s really okay. I didn’t go into recovery until I was in my mid-40s. It’s never too late to redefine your life.
What do you do on a daily basis to maintain your recovery?
I still attend 12-step meetings. I wake up every day and reassess where I am in my recovery. I see a psychiatrist weekly. I take medication to deal with clinical depression and body dysmorphia issues.
Today, substance addiction recovery is not my biggest challenge. My biggest challenge is my relationship with exercise and food. I must stay constantly present so I don’t end up doing nine Flywheel classes a day. It would be easy to be triggered back into exercise bulimia. My family has been very supportive in my recovery, and I’m very lucky for that.
Do you have any final thoughts?
Wellness is not the same as addiction recovery. Wellness doesn’t cure cocaine or alcohol addiction. Meditation and yoga are great augmentations to recovery, but we don’t want to see someone who is struggling say, “Well, I’m doing these wellness things; I don’t need to address my underlying issues.”
Law firms must learn to distinguish between getting help for addiction and viewing wellness as part of recovery. Wellness is never a substitute for the core basics of getting sober.