Dry July Motivation for Stressed Lawyers!

There are 101 reasons to support Dry July, but for stressed lawyers a compelling motivation is to feel calmer and less stressed. Restorative sleep, increased joy and greater mental clarity are others. Dry July is for everyone. You do not have to be “big drinker”.  You can simply be curious about the health gains that come with less alcohol in your life.

Stressed people drink to cope with stress without realising that alcohol compounds stress levels. Do you start feeling stressed as soon as you wake up and immediately reach for alcohol when you walk in the door after a long day? Perhaps you’re in your mid-40’s, feeling like you are always “spinning 10 plates in the air”, drinking too much and considering committing to Dry July next month to regain some balance.

Taking a break will not fix everything, but it will improve your sleep quality, reduce your stress hormone levels and create space to allow you to reassess your work/life balance. It’s hard to do this when you are constantly fatigued. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to discover who holds the balance of power: you or the bottle.

Here are 5 practical steps you can follow to make Dry July work for you so that you can reap the rewards at the end.

First up, if you are a consistent daily moderate drinker, it is important to consult your doctor before stopping drinking, as you may be physically addicted to alcohol and need a medically supervised detox.

Tip 1: Create Three Lists

List 1: Why do you want to take a break? List 2: What are your fears in stopping? List 3: Why now? These lists will set your intention up front and will remind you why you are doing this when you need motivation. Greater energy, better sleep and weight loss often feature in list 1. List 2 often includes socialising fears, fears around coping with stress and numbing the endless lists, boredom and loneliness. The third list may be that you are worried about where your drinking is heading or you’re worried about how alcohol is impacting your relationships, health or reputation. These are great reasons to give this a red-hot go.

Tip 2: Approach Dry July like an experiment

Look at Dry July as a month of health gains rather than one of deprivation. Define a successful Dry July as one where you learn about your relationship with alcohol and feel better at the end. Do not beat yourself up if you do drink occasionally. Shame and blame will increase your risk of drinking again. Instead, treat it as a learning experience and ask why did I need to drink in that moment and what can I do differently? Approach it with curiosity to learn about alcohol and why it is you drink the way you do.

Tip 3: Learn the science of alcohol

This is key! Did you know alcohol is one of the only substances that is both a depressant and a stimulant that pumps your body with stress hormones (hello 3am wake up!)? Did you know it decreases feelings of joy even when you are not drinking? Learning the science is a big part of the process of changing your drinking habits. Reading This Naked Mind by Annie Grace is a great place to start.

Tip 4: Explore your personal stress response

There are two important things to know here. Firstly, stress is cumulative, building up throughout the day so that by the time you walk in the door it can be hard to resist drinking. Releasing the stress valve regularly throughout the day can greatly improve your chances of resisting alcohol.

Secondly, the way you cope with stress is highly connected to your childhood environment and experience and how your parents coped with stress. Being aware of this is the first step. The next is to retrain your brain and nervous system to develop healthier coping mechanisms that stick. World-renowned neuroscientist, Professor Selena Bartlett, talked about how to train your mindset using the principles of brain plasticity to mitigate stress without reaching for alcohol in episode 34 of the She’s Sober Sydney podcast recently, referring to the stress that lawyers in particular face. She shares some practical tips to improve brain health. It’s a great episode to listen to for motivation in Dry July.

Tip 5: Mindset Shift

We drink because we believe we need it for some reason. We believe that we will gain something from it. To relieve stress? To reward ourselves? To celebrate? These beliefs create the desire. However, none of these beliefs are true and accurate. They are founded on false assumptions and experiences developed over decades from advertising, cultural norms, and our childhood environment.

Get curious over Dry July and put your alcohol beliefs on trial and test them for accuracy. This is the mindset work that ultimately diminishes your desire for alcohol, creating better habits that stick in the long term. Unsure of what your alcohol beliefs are? What are your fears around stopping drinking (Tip 1)? This will reveal some of your beliefs.

Your chances of succeeding are further boosted if you listen to some alcohol-related podcasts or even sign up to a 4- or 6-week course designed to help you drink less.


I work with many lawyers and without fail the word that is used to describe their lives after a break from alcohol is “calm”. The chaos eases as does the tendency to ruminate on work-related conversations and for the first time in a long time they notice a greater degree of calmness.

Good luck if you are embarking on Dry July! Once you have experienced solid sleep, a fresh sense of calm and the mental clarity that accompanies a break from alcohol, it is hard to go back. No one regrets not waking up without a hangover. Finally, reach out for support if you would like to drink less but are finding it hard to do so alone.

*Dry July is a fundraising campaign, raising funds for people affected by cancer. To signup, donate, visit

Female Lawyers and Alcohol

Many women now in their mid-late 40s and 50s who, after decades of drinking as part of university and legal culture, are now finding themselves unhealthy and unhappy.

Alcohol plays a significant role in this. This is not an attack on law firms or in any way meant to be disparaging towards female lawyers. In fact, it is the opposite.

This is a shout out to female lawyers who may be struggling with escalating alcohol use (or their alcohol use – full stop), women who are worried about their consumption levels and friends and colleagues of women who may fall into this category.  This is an acknowledgment of the prevalence of this struggle and that, with compassion and a helping hand, there is a healthier and happier joyful life waiting on the other side.

Alcohol use disorder breeds in environments where there is persistent overwhelming stress, late hours and fatigue; where the culture encourages and rewards competition and perfectionism and attracts anxious, analytical, methodical and obsessive personalities with perfectionistic tendencies; where alcohol use is prevalent in every celebration and consumed in excess from the top down; in people with underlying mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression[1], and where there is fear of reputational damage and reprisal associated with reaching out for help.  Every single one of these elements is present in law firms at levels that are higher than the general population.  It is a melting pot of emotional stress, mental health issues and, as the statistics bare out, woman are struggling.

A recent 2021 study of 2,863 American lawyers found that more female lawyers are engaging in both risky and hazardous drinking than their male counterparts[2]. Of those surveyed, 55.5% of woman were found to be engaging in risky drinking and 34% in hazardous drinking.  For woman, risky drinking (in this study)[3] is drinking more than 7 drinks per week or more than 3 during one occasion) and is defined as drinking at the level that puts you at risk for medical or social problems.  Hazardous drinking (in this study) is having more than 14 drinks per week and is considered to put you at risk for adverse health effects.  (Australian statistics relating to alcohol use among lawyers have previously been comparable with American studies[4].)

Sophie, a 48-year-old lawyer, who has asked to be anonymous, says she “would often frequently end up drinking two to two and half bottles of wine” to herself at night to get through an advice at home.  If work needed to be finished in the office, she would grab a wine or a beer from the fridge in the firm cafe area. “It just helped get me through a long arduous night… and when I got home I would have another glass of wine to tune-out work and relax before going to bed.”  This became a vicious cycle because “I would wake up feeling like crap needing to get to work super early and do it all again.” Sophie is now alcohol free and “truly believes that I had kept going down that path, I just would have broken.

Having been a lawyer for 15 years myself and participating in (and now witnessing) the aftermath that drinking culture has on senior legal corporate women, I know many women closely and from afar in similar situations to Sophie.

Drinking in law firms is rife and accompanies every celebration from attracting new clients, case wins to farewells.  For women, drinking with your smaller work group and larger sub-groups demonstrates loyalty and camaraderie, staying power, fierceness, that you can keep up with the men, to show you choose “the work” before other life goals, to share client/case stories, unload and debrief with colleagues who “get it”, to ensure you are in the running to get the ‘good’ cases, to escape from the combative day…so many reasons.

The work is combative and anxiety-ridden. You can feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel and the hours eat into your personal life.  Working days are long and there is an overlap between working and socialising.  Often these groups become your main social circle and can feel like family.

Sophie points out that “firms throw money at lavish lunches at the best restaurants where expensive alcohol is a major focus.  The more expensive, the more valued the client, and they can continue into dinner and beyond. Partners, barristers, the senior staff ask you to arrange these gatherings to market and impress clients and they foot the bill. It would be extremely hard to say no; you could, but no one does… I certainly didn’t because I was just so relieved to be away from the office and away from work.”  Also, why would she? Sophie believed that alcohol was her reward, helped her relax, allowed her to feel normal.

All of this is incredibly exciting in your 20s and 30s; then not so much in you 40s; then you start to wonder “why am I doing this?”, “what am I gaining here?”, and “how do I want to live the second half of my life?”.

Drinking becomes problematic when you start using it to make you feel “normal” in stressful, traumatic and emotionally uncomfortable moments.  Imposter syndrome, stress, gender discrimination, work-pressure creates many of these “moments”.  That dopamine / GABA hit that you temporarily receive when you do consume alcohol numbs these difficult feelings and you are relieved.  You’ll start believing that alcohol helps you feel better and when this happens the habit and belief is formed and this is reinforced over time.  Pumping out an advice is not so bad if you have a glass of red to accompany it, right?  You can forget that you are not spending time with your family, that you are bone-tired or that you actually really dislike this part of the job.

If you started drinking at a young age, you are even more susceptible to developing a problem with your alcohol use as you’ll likely already have a behavioural pattern of using alcohol to “help you” get through difficult moments and uncomfortable feelings.  This is what you’ll easily reach for when you are stressed, fatigued, socially anxious, lonely or unhappy.

Put simply, alcohol is an easy and available substance to numb the anxiety, the depression, the stress, the fatigue, the lot that comes with being a stressed lawyer and it is putting many lawyers – especially women – at risk to their physical and mental health.

As long-term indulgers well know, it is a vicious cycle.  Alcohol is a depressant and in order to maintain homeostasis to protect you, your brain releases stimulant chemicals, adrenalin and cortisol, which stay in your system much longer than dopamine.  Hello 3am wake-up!

Also Read: You Don’t Have to Hit “Rock-Bottom”

After long-term use alcohol also takes away your ability to experience pleasure and joy in the small things, the activities you previously found happiness in, such as spending time with your kids or socialising, known as the downward pleasure cycle (see Annie Grace, This Naked Mind).  At the very least, this leads to low mood, restlessness, lack of motivation and fatigue, increasing the desire to reach for alcohol again to get that short-term relief.

Many women know that alcohol no longer serves them once they’ve reached senior ranks.  What was once their crutch that enabled them to keep doing the hard yards, tasks and hours, that numbed them, has morphed into their company, their energy source and liquid confidence and courage and the thing that they are left with when they are working late hours alone.  Although these amazing women are experts in their professional fields, they can find themselves trapped and not living a meaningful or joyful life.

If you (or someone you know falls) into this category, it is not your fault! Becoming addicted to something that is, well, …addictive… and is marketed to appeal to your vulnerabilities to “make you” feel relaxed, happy or popular is not your fault.  The first step to turning the trajectory around is to be aware of what is happening and the next step is to explore your (often hidden) beliefs around what you think alcohol “gives” you and spend some time to shine the light on these beliefs and test them for accuracy.  Often, some time will be spent examining long-held beliefs associated with confidence, belonging, self-worth, but all of this is worth it, because it sets you free.  Reaching out is key!

Alcohol workplace coaching, presented in a shame-free, focussed yet fun environment, ought to be embraced by firms as part of their overall wellness drive and branding.  Serve champagne at these events if need be! It’s the perfect environment to facilitate a mindful drinking exercise, allowing participants to pause, sip slowly, reflecting throughout whether it is actually all that they believe it is (it is not!) while learning what alcohol actually does to our brains and bodies.  Alcohol use needs to be openly spoken about and people asked if they are ok without fear of reprisal. Sober curiosity should be applauded in these environments. Senior lawyers that have chosen to go alcohol-free or who choose to abstain at work-events should be applauded. A firm-funded counsellor should be available on the condition of anonymity.  Information about alcohol use should be on workplace web-site.

There are many, many steps that firms can take to support these women who have earned them so much money over the course of their lives and who are leading the next generation of lawyers.

Last word

For support on how you can change your relationship with alcohol, email me at [email protected] or schedule a breakthrough call on my web to discuss how we can make this mind-shift together.


[1] 2019 Australian & New Zealand Meritas Wellness Survey 2019; ABC News, August 2019, “Lawyers experience high rates of anxiety and depression, survey finds; Beyond Blue and Beaton Consulting, 2007 report, ‘Opening Our Eyes to Depression Among Australian Professionals’

[2] 2021 study, published by the Public Library of Science, conducted by Justin Anker, assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences, and Patrick Krill, lawyer and licensed and certified alcohol and drug Counsellor

[3] Australian Guidelines relating to alcohol released by the National Health & Medical Research Council states that although there is no safe level of drinking, to reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury for healthy men and women, drink no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.

[4] University of NSW 2014 report, Lawyering Stress and Work Culture

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