The Legal Profession Has Lost A Recovery Warrior

On October 18, 2017, the legal recovery community lost a tireless advocate and wonderful human being with the passing of Michael Cohen.  Michael was the Executive Director of the Florida Lawyers Assistance Program.

I met Michael when we sat on an ethics panel together. I was honored when he agreed to be interviewed for my book. His lifelong dedication to helping lawyers and law students recover from addiction issues personified the last word of the title of my book: “Redemption.” Below is his full contribution to my book on the topic of Lawyers Assistance Programs. Compelling words of wisdom for both lawyers and law students who may be struggling.

In your experience, what are the three biggest mistakes lawyers make with regards to substance use before you see them, that puts their license at risk?

Refusing to admit to themselves that there’s a problem, believing they can handle it by themselves, and refusing or postponing asking for help, even if they know help is available. Let’s take a look at these three responses, one at a time.

Refusing to Admit to Themselves That There’s a Problem

Alcoholic or addicted lawyers don’t start out by sleeping under a bridge or mainlining heroin. As with most substance use issues, early behavior is likely no different than colleagues in undergraduate or law school and, unfortunately, there’s no way to predict who will wind up dealing with the consequences of this disease. The progression of a substance use disorder can take years, during which time the lawyer will often blame other factors for consequences of their substance use (my partners/the judge were too harsh, my spouse doesn’t understand the pressure I’m under, I was late to court because of the damn traffic). Unfortunately, it’s often not until the consequences are undeniable (arrest, bar complaint, report from a judge) that the lawyer may admit there’s a problem with their use of substances.

I Can Handle This Myself

We are taught from day one in law school that we should be able to out-think, out-argue, and out-reason any problem. After all, we’re the advice givers, not the advice takers. This attitude when applied to a substance use disorder is disastrous. We have no frame of reference for dealing with a deadly medical condition — it would be like saying, “Yup, I have this lump growing in my chest, but I should be able to use my legal skills to deal with it.” I don’t know any lawyer who would say that with reference to cancer, or diabetes, or hepatitis, but it is almost always the thought process that takes place when a lawyer finally acknowledges they may be dealing with a drug or alcohol addiction. Part of this is clearly the stigma that still exists regarding addiction, part is the fear of being taken advantage of by admitting a “weakness,” and part is the belief that addiction is an issue of willpower that can be overcome by our legal acumen. Clearly, this approach does not work for most lawyers dealing with addiction.

Refusing or Postponing Asking for Help

For the reasons above (stigma, fear, belief in their own abilities), most lawyers will not reach out for help, even after they’ve acknowledged there’s a problem. Almost every state now has a lawyer assistance program (LAP) that provides free, confidential help to legal professionals dealing with substance use or mental health problems. Every LAP devotes a great deal of time to getting the word out that they exist and that they’re there to help, but lawyers often refuse to seek that help until it is forced on them by a referral to the LAP by law enforcement or the Bar disciplinary agency. Sometimes, this refusal to seek help is based on the belief of lawyers that they can handle the problem themselves, but it is often the belief that by contacting the LAP, they will be exposing their situation to the Bar and other lawyers, which is not the case.

Every LAP safeguards confidentiality as the cornerstone of its existence, and most are staffed by recovering attorneys and volunteers who have dealt with their own problems. In some jurisdictions, like Florida, confidentiality is protected by Bar rule and by state law unless the lawyer is referred to the LAP by the Bar disciplinary agency or Bar admission agency. Obviously, contacting the LAP or a treatment program before the substance use disorder comes to the Bar’s attention can save an attorney’s license, family, and possibly life, but unfortunately the combination of fear and ego often prevents this.

Based on your experience, in general, what are the three most important things a lawyer who is struggling can do as soon as possible to put himself/herself in the best position to continue practicing law even if there are temporary consequences?

Find out what resources are available and use them, engage in the appropriate level of treatment, and stick with the program.

Find Out What Resources Are Available and Use Them

Once the lawyer has acknowledged that a problem exists, the question is “what now?” Many lawyers “choose” to avoid seeking help out of fear that exposing themselves will result in disciplinary sanctions, loss of license, or loss of esteem because of the stigma still associated with addiction. As noted above, we’re a profession that tells ourselves we can handle any problem by using our big brains. Combating addiction is not something that can be done without help, but there are a number of resources available to an attorney who wants to recover. A good first step is to contact the state’s lawyer assistance program. Some LAPs are part of state Bar associations, others operate independently but cooperatively with state Bars, while others have no connection to the Bar association. In all cases, however, the primary concern of the LAP is confidentiality. A lawyer can approach the LAP, be candid about what’s going on in his or her life, and know that the information will be kept inviolate. Most states have Bar rules that prevent the LAP from disclosing any information, and some states (such as Florida) have both Bar rules and state laws protecting information.

In addition to the state LAP, large firm lawyers may have access to a confidential employee assistance program (EAP) which, like the LAP, can assess the problem and recommend treatment options. Unfortunately, the fear associated with seeking help more often than not prevents the lawyer from asking for help while the problem is still manageable. Sadly, it often takes an outside force such as an arrest or Bar complaint to push the lawyer into getting help.

Engage in the Appropriate Level of Treatment

Once the lawyer has worked up the courage (or hit the level of desperation) to ask for help from a LAP or EAP, it is likely that recommendations will be made about how to best address the issue. These recommendations may range from attendance at twelve-step meetings, to individual or group therapy, to outpatient or inpatient treatment. Very often a lawyer confronted with a recommendation, especially for inpatient or outpatient treatment, will respond with, “I have a practice to run. I can’t possibly disappear for 30 or 60 days,” or “I have a family. I can’t go to outpatient treatment three nights a week for the next few months.” What the lawyer needs to understand is that if the treatment recommendation is not followed, it’s very possible there will eventually not be a practice or family to worry about. Treatment may be a life or career-saving opportunity, and disregarding a recommendation made after an appropriate evaluation often leads to further progression of the addiction and more serious consequences.

Stick With the Program

After having the courage to ask for help and engaging in the appropriate level of treatment, the lawyer’s task is to use the tools they’ve been given to remain in recovery. All too often, the lawyer’s (or more accurately, the addiction’s) thought process after completing treatment and putting together six or eight months of abstinence is, Well, I’ve got this thing beat. I know what my problem was and won’t make the same mistakes again. There should be no harm in having a beer or two. This is a natural reaction to feeling healthier, patching up things at home, business picking up, and life in general getting better. However, discontinuing the measures that got the lawyer there (twelve-step meetings, therapy, etc.) will all too often allow the disease to reassert itself and start the long slide back into active addiction. The correct reaction to life getting better is to continue doing the things that turned life around, one day at a time.

Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at


The Death Of Texas Appellate Judge Due To Alcoholism

When the tragic death of former Justice David Lewis of the Texas 5th Court of Appeals was first publicized, there was a lot of speculation around what happened. We now know. His death was due to the ravaging effects of alcoholism and artery disease. He was only 66 years old. A tragic end to a once distinguished career.  One thing that caught my eye was from the sworn testimony regarding his conduct on the bench:

“…. before Lewis joined the court, he was “healthy” and had “a strong legal mind.” But that changed.”

I have to wonder if that statement was influenced by the myth of the “high-functioning alcoholic” with regards to the “change” in his conduct prior to it becoming an obvious problem from the standpoint of job performance.

The reality is that alcoholism is a progressive disease. To believe that a lawyer (or judge) can perform at the same level and give the client full value of an hour billed daily while not in recovery is a form of denial and avoidance. More often than not, the decrease is noticeable to others, but nothing is said for a myriad of reasons. Eventually the house of cards and the conspiracy of stigma-induced silence collapses and there is no way to squeeze “high-functioning” through the pinhole of recovery. By that point, there may be a malpractice suit. The state bar becomes involved. The privilege of practicing law is taken away either temporarily or permanently.

To get a broader perspective on the topic, I reached out to Brian Tannebaum. Brian is a criminal defense a lawyer in Miami who specializes in representing attorneys before the bar when facing allegations of misconduct. As you might imagine, this often involves substance-use issues. In full disclosure, Brian is also a contributor to my book. Here is what he had to say about the myth of the “high-functioning alcoholic”:

“High Functioning” is a term used by both addicts and those who know addicts. When someone refers to an addict as “high functioning,” they are usually describing someone who drinks to excess or uses drugs but appears to be in control. An addict who is a lawyer and refers to themselves as “high functioning” believes they can drink to excess or use drugs and still do everyday tasks — like go to court, meet with clients, and write pleadings, and not get caught or appear “drunk.” A lawyer who is “high functioning” is not someone who is “OK” at the level in which they are using alcohol or drugs. They are in need of serious help, as they believe that they can go through their day high or drunk and perform at to the required levels of competency and ethics.

Brian also has personal experience witnessing impaired lawyers in the courtroom:

I’ve been in court and smelled alcohol. It’s an uncomfortable moment when you’re not sure where the smell is coming from. Then when you realize who it is, you ponder what to do. Is the lawyer drunk? Did they just have a drink at lunch, or worse — breakfast? It’s hard to decide what to do if the lawyer isn’t stumbling and you don’t want to make an incorrect judgment. I think the best way to handle it is to pull the lawyer aside, express that you’re not looking to cause the lawyer trouble, but that you’re looking out for the lawyer’s well-being, and that someone else in court that smelled the alcohol may not be as understanding (i.e., the bailiff, or other court staff).

I also reached out to a lawyer in recovery to provide his perspective on the culture of the “high functioning” addicted lawyer.  Caleb Kruckenberg is a criminal defense attorney in recovery from alcohol. He says:

In my experience, the legal community has a very unhealthy attitude about alcohol (and substance abuse in general). People go on about how they “work hard/play hard,” and we all just take it as a given that being a lawyer is very difficult and the only way to cope is by drinking excessively.


I always drank as an adult, but didn’t really begin in earnest until after I graduated law school and entered the work force. I don’t blame anyone else for my drinking, and I take responsibility for my behavior. But I also found a very supportive environment for my addiction. No one looked twice when I got exceedingly drunk at happy hours, or parties, and my coworkers would just laugh it off when I went in to work hungover day after day.

When I couldn’t ignore that I had a real problem with drinking (for example, because I could no longer take a day off from it, or have any real ability to stop once I began), I kept up my denial with a lot of help from the drinking culture of all the lawyers I knew.


I remember sitting in court in the morning and having the same conversation with other defense lawyers, over and over. We were so hung over and probably alcoholics (ha ha), but we were “functioning” so it wasn’t a big deal. That’s what made us tough — we could go day after day and never lose a step. We didn’t drink at work, so obviously there wasn’t a real issue.


When I finally got honest with myself and got sober, I realized how much drinking had affected me at work (and in so many other ways).  I know other people had to have noticed that I had problems, but nobody ever called me out or made it an issue. There’s no question in my mind that I’m twice the lawyer now than I was when I was drinking heavily.

But it was also hard for me to not only get sober, but be open about being sober, because I felt like I had left the club. In some ways, it was easier for me to brag about how much of a functioning alcoholic I was, and how I could peel myself off the floor and still do my job, than for me to tell people I’ve known for a long time that I don’t drink any more.


I think the only way to change this is for people like us to be honest. There are no functional alcoholics. Alcohol is either a problem or it isn’t. And I managed to use my “functioning” as an excuse to keep drinking.

“Be honest.” That is, of course, a crucial part of recovery. It is also an important part of a culture of silence and avoidance in our profession when facing these issues. When you see your colleague who you know or suspect is dealing with alcohol or drug issues, are you “being honest” in what you tell yourself or tell him or her?  What will you say? We are a profession in crisis from a problem drinking standpoint. We all have to take ownership and speak up. Even at the cost of embarrassment and consequences. It only gets worse in a conspiracy of “high-functioning” silence.

Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at

My First 12-Step Meeting

When I walked into my first 12-step meeting (Alcoholics Anonymous is the most well-known) in April 2007 fresh off a two-day drug- and alcohol-induced blackout, I’d being seeing a psychiatrist for a few years. My view on therapy was simple. Admit nothing. Talk about nothing consequential, lie when necessary. Get my antidepressant prescription. I sometimes get asked, “Why would you lie to your therapist? Why would you even go if you didn’t want help? You’re paying the guy!” I wanted help but was not in a position to accept help. I was not in a position to face my past. I was ashamed of my present and of my past.  Shame knows no hourly rate.

This day would be different. I’d thought about not going, but I knew that I had to do something or the pressure would increase to go to rehab. Some step forward had to be taken. I wanted to take it, but I was also terrified. I’d never experienced such fear. Fear of losing my girlfriend and family. Fear of a life without drugs, alcohol, and what seemed like a near constant state of deep depression. Fear of rigorous honesty — something I’d never been a fan of, either as a lawyer or in my personal life.

My psychiatrist asked, “Have you heard of Alcoholics Anonymous? There is a group that meets right next door to this office.”

I looked at him skeptically. “Yeah, I drive by there, They all look like homeless people and sterno bums. They smoke. I hate smokers.” There is always a reason to not recover.

“No, Brian, there are all kinds of people who attend. Even lawyers. If you’re adamant about not going to treatment, I think it’s a good place to start. If it doesn’t take, then we can revisit in-patient treatment. There’s actually a meeting starting in a little bit. Let’s end the session, and you can go over there and check it out.”

Once again, I was resistant. I brought up my “law practice.” I’m a lawyer. I have clients who need attending to. I’m a busy guy. I’m above such things as 12-step in grimy, smoke-filled rooms of despair. (In reality, I had no clients left.) I remember his response as if it were yesterday. “Brian, yes, you have a law degree. Yes, you sometimes go through some of the motions of what being a lawyer looks like. But you are not a lawyer in this room. You have an addiction. And this is a good first step for many addicts. I don’t know if it’ll work for you. But for now, it costs nothing but a walk over there and an hour to just listen.”

As he was giving me the dose of reality, my wheels were turning with the fantasy. What I heard was, “You don’t have to go away to treatment.”  It’s anonymous. Nobody will know. I could take the smallest of steps and stay in my comfort zone. What I didn’t know then was that even the smallest of steps into recovery are okay. In reality, even a small step can be life-changing.

I walk up to the door of the building where the local 12-step meetings are held

After pacing around outside the door for a long time, I finally peer in, down the long hallway to where people are gathering. I’m afraid of being recognized. My ego is still paramount in my worries.

When I finally work up the courage to walk into the building, each step into the unknown seems harder and harder. Who are the people I’ll meet in 12-step? My mind flashes back to one of my favorite childhood movies, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. I suddenly imagine that as soon as I enter the 12-step meeting room, I’ll be carried away by a team of chanting Oompa Loompas determined to punish me for my bad habits. I have no desire to meet the Oompa Loompas on the other side of that door. I again consider rehab, but I’m even more embarrassed about the idea of my friends, other lawyers, and everyone who knows my family name finding out I’m going to in-patient rehab than I am about a small group of strangers scrutinizing my deepest flaws.

I finally make it to the door of the meeting room, and I can smell the fumes of stale cigarette smoke and day-old coffee. My eyes lock onto the 1950s tile floor, ingrained with the dirt of countless feet. There are other people milling around in the hall. Are these the people with whom I am supposed to share my darkest secrets? Will I be made fun of, teased, bullied, insulted? Who are these people? Skid-row bums? That’s my perception of 12-step. I think of Nicolas Cage’s character, Ben, living in the sleazy “no-tell motel” as he drinks himself to death in Leaving Las Vegas, and Dick Van Dyke’s character, Charlie, drunk, alone on the beach with no future in The Morning After.

Still not ready, I walk back to my car, and I sit there with the key in the ignition. I even start the engine. But I don’t go anywhere. Instead, I think about my next move. It’s all on me. My therapist couldn’t save me. Addiction is not a choice, but recovery is.

I shut off the engine and take the keys out of the ignition. There’s no way to escape my problems. I have to face them. I go back to the front door of the meeting room. Deep breath. Don’t look around. Eyes down at the floor. That fixed point. Watch the feet move forward. One baby step at a time. It’s the way I’m able to accomplish things in life. It’s how I was able to finish eight marathons. Facing any difficult task, my best self is that part of me that can place one foot in front of the other until a goal is accomplished. Don’t look left. Don’t look right. Don’t think about the finish line. Watch your feet, one in front of the other. Again. One in front of the other, back down the long hallway. Now open the glass door. People are looking at you. Don’t look at them. Fixed point. Open it.

I do. And I go in.

My blue short-sleeve shirt was soaked with sweat. I sat in the corner and listened. I raised my hand when the call went out for who was in for the first time. Two others were also attending their first meeting. They raised their hands, gave their first names, and said, simply, “I’m an alcoholic.” My turn came. “My name is Brian.” That’s it. I was sobbing. I cried in that corner for a few reasons. I instinctively knew I was beaten. I was ashamed to be there. I was ashamed of what I was. I was ashamed of the decades I couldn’t look at my reflection in the mirror. I heard my story over and over again in others’ mouths. Not the same facts exactly, but the same pain. The same fears. The same shame. I heard those with long-term recovery talking about their first time through the doors, what they’d learned. I heard hope. For the first time in my life, I was beginning to see what recovery looked like.

Even though I wasn’t entirely comfortable yet in that room, I felt I’d found the support of a group who understood. Who didn’t judge. Who told me I was not alone and would never be alone in my recovery. The first day of one-day-at-a-time had begun.

Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at

The “Insanity Of Addiction”

Just about anyone in long-term recovery has a story that we look back on, roll our eyes, chuckle, and use as a gauge of how chaotic things were in addiction.  It may not have seemed funny at the time, but finding humor in my recovery is important to me.  Here is an anecdote that I look back on and laugh.  It is also an excerpt from my book, The Addicted Lawyer.

Despite my hangover, June 7, 2006, was a good day. An all-night cocaine-and-Jack Daniels rager was not going to dampen my excitement for my older brother. Mark had purchased an NBA team six years earlier — the Dallas Mavericks. Now, for the first time, the Mavs were going for the championship, playing against the Miami Heat the next day, June 8. Excitement within the city of Dallas reached an all-time high. The Mavs had improved significantly under Mark’s ownership, going from the laughing stock of the league to making the playoffs in each full season since he had taken over. A championship series, however, was uncharted territory.

For the 2006 NBA Finals, I planned to be sitting in a suite Mark provided for family and friends with my new girlfriend of fewer than four months. I also had the opportunity to obtain hard-to-get tickets for friends in first-level seats just off the floor. I purchased two for game one of the championship series and considered giving them to a good friend and his wife. I also thought about selling them on eBay for drug and alcohol money. Ultimately, I decided that scalping the tickets would be disrespectful to Mark and the team.

Then I picked up the phone. My call was not to my friend and his wife. The call was to my cocaine dealer. Hey, he was like a friend, I reasoned. I’d trade the two tickets to him for as much cocaine as I could get at scalpers’ prices. Selling them on eBay was disrespectful in my mind, but trading them to my drug dealer “friend” was perfectly acceptable.

My dealer, eager to see the team play in their first championship series in team history, showed up at my door in record time. I handed him the two coveted tickets, and he handed me one thousand dollars in “chunked” cocaine in a Ziploc baggy. It was more than enough to send me to prison, but that thought never entered my mind. I used my handy mini kitchen strainer (a tool with which regular cocaine users are intimately familiar) to grind up the cocaine on my desk into a large pile of fine powder. I leaned back in my chair and stared at the volcano-shaped mound for a few moments feeling like Al Pacino’s character Tony Montana in Scarface.

As I contemplated the cocaine kingdom in front of me, I heard cars pulling up outside, men shouting, and spotted the flashing blue and red lights of a Dallas Police Department cruiser. Maybe the DEA? A SWAT raid? I pulled out my phone, frantically searching for the name of the criminal lawyer who handled my DWI 15 years earlier. I wondered how I’d explain my arrest to my family. I saw my legal career over. My name splashed over the Dallas Morning News — “Mark Cuban’s Attorney Brother Nabbed In Drug Raid!”

Then I thought of the disbarment proceedings I’d face, and the humiliation of the State Bar of Texas taking my law license and publishing my name for all to see in the Texas Bar Journal. At the time, I was working as of-counsel for a personal injury plaintiffs’ law firm. My career was hardly distinguished, and the threat of public humiliation made me more anxious than the threat of loss of livelihood. How would I tell my father that his son was a failure and the antithesis of every value he had tried to instill in his children?

I ran to the window, heart rate doubled in panic, and cautiously pulled the slits of the blinds apart as only a paranoid, beady-eyed, alcohol- and cocaine-addled person can. Then I scoured every inch of the front yard for black-clad agents crawling through the grass. I ran to another window and surveyed the backyard. Nothing was visible. Still, I braced myself for the SWAT team that any moment might swing down from ropes dangling from copters and smash my windows, just like the ending scene from the great Chevy Chase movie Christmas Vacation. But there were no cars. No police. No helicopters. Just the quiet of the night, and the soft breathing of my dog sleeping in the corner. Outside the flashbulb bursts of fireflies pierced the darkness, and inside I was alone with the ringing paranoia of addiction.

I’m safe, but only for the moment. I was drenched in sweat. Measures had to be taken — I couldn’t expose myself to danger like that again. My heart couldn’t take it. So I hid my cocaine. Then I got in my car and headed to Home Depot, where I picked up several electrical outlet faceplates, screws, a saw, and a drill. Back home, I went around to three different closets around my house and cut through the drywall. I put equal amounts of cocaine in separate Ziploc baggies, placed each behind the drywall, and covered the hole with an outlet faceplate. This would not only hide it from prying eyes, but portion it out so I would not “blow” through it all in one night out on the town or alone by myself in my bedroom, as was often the case when I used cocaine.

In my mind, I was logical and brilliant. My law degree had finally paid off. As if the police, DEA, and drug dogs had never encountered that method of concealment before.

Before I packed away my windfall, I (of course) had to sample the wares. Snort snort. Heartbeat quickened. Blood pressure rose. I experienced a terrible feeling for a moment, as if I might have a heart attack or just pass out and never wake up. The panic drove my heart even faster. This feeling of dread, morphing quickly into deep depression, was a reaction I was having more and more often when I used coke. It wasn’t anything like the high I started chasing 20 years before. Instead, I was overcome by instant shame, instant regret. I knew that I’d continue to snort through the baggies of cocaine non-stop until I finally found the high needed to walk out the door and face the world. I panicked at that thought.

After a few paralyzed moments, I made a decision. I first took a couple of swigs out of a bottle of Jack Daniels to calm my heart down, as I’d done so many times before with a bad high. I then went back to each of the fake electrical outlets and gathered up all the cocaine I’d just hidden and put it back into one baggie. Then I ran to the bathroom and, without hesitation, flushed my nearly one thousand dollars of cocaine down the toilet. There was a sudden sense of relief. Maybe I can control this, I thought.

The next night, the Mavs took game one. I was agitated and angry with myself as I sat in the suite with family watching the action. My mind was not on the great game being played on the basketball court, but on the cocaine I had flushed down the toilet. I could be in the arena bathroom doing multiple bumps, but had to settle for Diet Coke instead.

By the next day, the guilt and paranoia of the massive cocaine flush was completely behind me. The next high will be different, I thought. Why did I flush all that blow down the toilet? I’m an idiot! That blow would’ve lasted me a week! I called my drug dealer. Two more tickets traded for more cocaine. Baggies behind the electrical outlets, a bad high, paranoia, panic all over again. Another flush. Deja vu. The insanity of addiction. The Mavs won those first two games, but would ultimately lose the championship series to the Heat. I was in the process of losing much more until I went into recovery in 2007.   On a side note, I read that when Dallas flushes, it ends up in Houston, so some people down there may have felt an extra bounce in their step those two nights.

You can also  watch me tell this story at a conference.

BrianCubanBrian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at

Dealing With Relapse

Brooke is a first-year law student. After four years of long-term recovery, she relapsed. She is back in recovery, while also continuing to pursue her law school studies. Here is her story and the lessons she learned.

February 15, 2014, was the day I got on my knees in my living room and did exactly as my sponsor directed me to do to.  I was desperate, tired, detoxing, and in fear of losing custody of my daughter in the middle of a contentious divorce.


My sponsor guided me in reciting the 3rd step prayer and as each word came out of my trembling body, I felt a little bit lighter. I had been in and out of the doors of AA for years, but for some reason that night, it finally stuck. I believe it finally resonated because I had truly reached my bottom. I was out of options, and the thought of losing my daughter was the “gift of desperation” that I needed.


I had always been skeptical of AA, and admit to this day that I believe it is an outdated approach to a disease that continues to evolve in modern times.  But that day, I was out of choices. I had tried my way over and over, and it wasn’t working.  I did exactly as my sponsor instructed me to do. I sent her daily gratitudes, meticulously went through each of the steps of AA, attended meetings every day, began to sponsor others, and started to put my life back together.  Within one year, I went from 50/50 custody of my daughter to full custody. The “promises” that AA assured would happen in my life began to take shape.


I started my own PR company, I traveled often, I moved back to Los Angeles (where I had wanted to live before my divorce forced me to relocate to San Francisco to share custody), and I was genuinely beginning to feel whole again.


I decided that it was time to pursue my life-long dream of going to law school to become a lawyer and legal journalist. Getting into law school itself was a new feat that brought on the stresses of the LSAT, essays, and letters of recommendation.  As an entrepreneur and working single mother with no outside help, I knew my status as a non-traditional student would make the journey to law school all the more difficult, but I was up for the challenge.


Little did I know that as I slowly moved away from speaking to my sponsor every day and attending AA meetings, that I’d lose my sobriety date in the midst of starting my first year of law school.


No one tells you that when you start law school you sacrifice all the normalcies of your previous life to put in so much time to reading, studying, briefing, writing, analyzing, memorizing, and essentially living and breathing case law, so that there’s little room for anything else.  Being the obsessive person that I am, I applied to a two-year accelerated program rather than the traditional three-year program.


The first week of law school, all I was trying to do was understand what to expect, how to study, how to possibly get in the exorbitant amount of reading required, how to glean the important information, and how to navigate the enormous amount of stress and pressure in our law school classroom. 2Ls would ask, “So who’s the gunner in your class?”  “The gunner?” I’d say.  Was I supposed to be the gunner?  Was I doing enough?  How was I going to make it all work?  I looked around our class and realized that we were all “gunners” — eager to speak, looking to impress our professors, “gunning” for the best grades in the class which would ultimately determine our future externship placements, scholarships and job placements. Competition is stiff in law school. I’d say more so than in any other graduate program out there.  And the majority of the students in my accelerated class didn’t have a company to run, nor were they taking care of a six-year-old all by themselves.


The first couple of weeks the work piled on, the nights were long, and I worked to settle into a routine for my daughter and myself.  I’d drop her off at school, go to class, pick her up, make her dinner, bathe her, put her to bed, read/study for four hours or more, and repeat.  And those were the easier days, when the routine went as planned.


No one prepares you for the extra papers, random quizzes, extra assignments, much-needed TA review sessions, or the amount of stress that swirls in the rooms as the pages of reading pile up.


A much-needed weekend was around the corner my second quarter in.  I hadn’t been to an AA meeting since I started law school (there was just no time), and I decided that a beer while I watched one of my favorite television shows wouldn’t hurt.

In reality, I had been making that reservation to drink long before that weekend. The idea popped into my mind the first time all of my law school friends decided to hit the corner bar after our first week of school. After a stressful week, when Friday came around, cocktails were on everyone’s mind… so much so that the weekly Friday bar jaunt became a routine for my law school classmates.  Id’ join for a bit before I had to pick up my daughter — partake in a soda water and lime and head out.  The soda water and lime became a “virgin margarita” or a “non-alcoholic beer,” and before I knew it, I was grabbing a six-pack of Corona on my way home one weekend, to be able to finally relax alone in the comfort of my home without any of my classmates ever having to know…


But as true alcoholics know, it’s never just one beer or a six-pack.  My second quarter of law school, my relapse kept me out for four days of classes. I felt guilt, shame, and was afraid I might have missed too many classes to get back on track.  I quickly reached out to my sponsor and others in the program and asked for help.  I got back to school immediately to catch up on my work, and I found that the Dean at my law school was there to help rather than reprimand or shame me.


“Relapse is a part of recovery,” they say… but those couple of days back in class brought the stigma and handcuffs of guilt that haunt many in recovery. I worried about what my classmates may think, if I could still remain on top in my studies, or if I had ruined my reputation…


Then I forgave myself and I let go as I did that day I got on my knees. I was grateful my relapse didn’t end in my losing my place in law school or my losing myself. I had to put it all in perspective and learn to take it one day at a time again. I went to a meeting that night, found some meetings for those in the legal field, and have started back on my steps.  After experiencing my first relapse in three-and-a-half years in my first year of law school, I realized that while my law school career takes work and priority, my sobriety must always come first. And today, it’s okay if I don’t get all of the reading done or my analysis in my essay isn’t perfect. I can handle it all if I reach out for support and I take it one day and one step at a time.

Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at

Reflecting On My First Year Of Marriage In Recovery

Brian and Amanda Cuban

I am about to celebrate my one-year wedding anniversary. On October 20, 2016, after over 10 years dating Amanda as I repaired myself in recovery — and in doing so, repaired the broken trust so common in relationships strained by addiction — we got married in Florence, Italy.  I married the woman who has witnessed me at my best and worst on many levels including my hitting “rock bottom” on April 8, 2007, after decades of drug and alcohol issues, resulting in various levels of consequences, including multiple failures of the bar exam, jail, two trips to a psychiatric facility, three failed marriages, and the implosion of my legal career.

Prior to moving into long-term recovery, I would have never thought a life free of addiction and being in a healthy, stable relationship, let alone a happy marriage, would ever be realities for me.  Reflecting back on that weekend, it seems like a foggy nightmare, but it was all too real, as is addiction.

April 2007. I am lying in bed. The last I remember is walking into a nightclub two days before. It now feels like the middle of the day. Sunlight is in my eyes. I sense a presence in the room. Startled, I sit up. Amanda is by the bed looking down at me, confused, worried, angry.

This is her home now, too. She moved in with me two weeks earlier. I thought that having her in close proximity would help me stop my drug use. As a lawyer, that seemed perfectly logical to me. Like I was writing a brief or arguing a motion in court. We are a profession of thinkers. In reality, I was a skilled manipulator. I was counting on Amanda’s presence to fix me. But she’s not supposed to be fixing me today. Today, she’s supposed to be visiting family in Houston for Easter.

I glance at my clock and see it’s Sunday afternoon. Then my eyes focus on the cocaine laid out on the dresser table. The black market Ambien and Xanax, a Tequila bottle, and evidence of the ultimate betrayal of trust, infidelity.  My first thought is how I might “think” myself out of the situation. I’m a lawyer. I can come up with something that she’ll believe.” Amanda is also a lawyer.  Trying to buy some time to clear my head, I ask Amanda to drive me to a local psychiatric hospital that I had been to in 2005 after becoming suicidal. She knew nothing of my prior mental health issues.

In the car, I’m silent. She’s crying and angry. The familiar drive. The familiar parking lot. The familiar walk through the double doors to intake. I can’t look at Amanda, and instead I look down at the floor in shame and fear as I give my name to the intake nurse. I need air.  I walk back into the parking lot. Fixating on the black concrete. Thinking.

I accept that Amanda will leave me. I’d leave if I were her. There’s no reason for her to stay. I’ve betrayed her trust on every level. I have nowhere to go now but the truth. I’m beaten. I’ve let down everyone. More lies. Another relapse. I think of my father. I think of my two brothers. In the few moments of what seems like an eternity, I think of a little boy and his brothers in his father’s arms. Crawling over him on the floor as we tried to pin him down pretending we were wrestlers. Him laughing. The love. The bond.  I know in that parking lot, I’m on the verge of so much loss. I’ll lose my girlfriend, my family, myself.

The thought of disappointing and losing my family was more than I could bear. Once my family was gone, I’d have nothing. I was afraid. Fear had been holding me back from seeking help, but now fear was my motivator. It was time for an honest step forward. I didn’t know what that step would be, or who I would have to help me. At the moment, Amanda was by my side, and that was something to be grateful for. And there was something else, too. In the midst of that fear, shame, and humiliation, I for the first time felt something that had eluded me for decades. I felt hope.

Amanda stayed in a hotel that night. The next day, she would begin her move into an apartment and possibly out of my life. I helped Amanda move out.  I could have hidden my head and refused to help as she left, allowing the path of least resistance to occur as I had done so many times before, but accountability had to begin. The accountability of looking her in the eye and facing my guilt and shame as well has her anger and pain without excuse. I carried each piece of furniture and box to her new place wondering if it would be the last time I saw her.  I, however, also instinctively knew that regardless of whether Amanda decided to stay, each step forward I took in recovery had to be for me, not to convince her or anyone else of my desire for recovery and redemption.

Since that day, there were two recoveries happening. Her recovery of her trust in me. My addiction recovery. It took time. It took work. Rebuilding trust is hard. Recovery is hard. It could not happen for each other. It had to happen for each of us. It was worth every moment. We exchanged vows and rings. Beginning a life that I never envisioned possible on that horrible day in April 2007.

Reflecting back on the last year in marriage, like in any relationship there are ups and downs, but they are moments that are dealt with on their own terms, without the need to change who I am to cope through alcohol and drugs. That is life. That is recovery. That is marriage. Not every relationship will survive such trauma and heartache, but it can happen. I am glad mine did. It would not have happened without recovery.

Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at

It’s Ok To Say, “I Don’t Drink”

I have recurring dreams. Scenes from law school, struggles with addiction, are all in re-run. These dreams are vivid and colorful, like full-length movies played out in my subconscious.

One particular dream begins as I arrive at a social event. Maybe a law school happy hour or a state bar convention. I’ve been drunk at both. I walk to the bar and order a Diet Coke. The bartender tells me they don’t serve non-alcoholic drinks. Instead he offers me a shot of Jack Daniels. One of my favorite drinks pre-sobriety. Generally, with a cocaine chaser.  I take the drink from him, but I can’t raise the shot glass to my mouth. My right arm is frozen. People start showing up. Drinks in hand. Laughing, having fun. Are they laughing at me? A person asks, “Are you going to drink that?” I don’t know what to say. I no longer drink, but maybe just this once. I can’t raise my arm to allow Mr. Jack to quell my anxiety and make me one with the group. The entire room is now laughing at me. I will never be one of them unless I can lift Jack to my lips. I will never be the confident Brian. The confident lawyer.  Over 10 years into my recovery and I still have that dream. It has occurred in one variation or another since I got sober.

The pressure of trying to fit in as a non-drinking person in a profession (including law school) in which the culture often revolves around alcohol can be a daunting task, especially in early sobriety.

The reality I’ve experienced, however, is that is that most people at social functions don’t care about the drinking habits of others unless you’re putting yourself in a situation where the primary function is to drink — like a law school happy hour. I have occasionally been asked the dreaded questions, “Can I get you a drink?” or “Why are you not drinking?”

I am in a place now where I generally don’t stress about it. I am open about my recovery. When the stress level does rise, I do my best to remember a saying I learned in 12-step recovery. “What people think about me is none of my business.” That includes what they think about whether I take a drink or not. When I tell them I am in recovery, the answers have ranged from support to indifference. It’s not unusual for the person to confide in me that he/she is also in recovery.  It’s all become pretty normalized, even though the stigma causes us to think we are the only ones and that our recovery is something to be ashamed of. Most people know someone in recovery. Many people do not drink for reasons having nothing to do with recovery.

That’s where I am. You may not be there. It bothers you. I’ve been asked by both law students and lawyers early in recovery: “How do I just say no, feel comfortable about it and not get caught up in projecting what others think, which raises my anxiety level?” Just the thought of being asked the question causes stress. You don’t want to be triggered but for whatever reason, socially or professionally, you feel you need to be part of the event and face the question that may never be asked or cared about by anyone else.

Here is some very basic but important advice on how to deal with going into potentially stressful drinking environments. This advice has helped me navigate many social drinking situations. The discussion of whether you can pass on these events without stigma or career impact or how law firms and the legal profession in general can change the culture around drinking is for another time. You’re going and that’s that. I get it. I’ve done it.

Have a game plan going into the event whether it’s a law firm function, state bar function, client dinner, or a law school happy hour. Don’t wait until you get there to deal with it on the fly. Would you walk into a trial without being prepared or take a final without studying? That includes anticipating the questions and having your answer ready. I simply tell it as it is. I am in recovery. If they want to know more, I more than happy to tell my story. My personal view is that when we start veering from the truth, it only adds to the stress and stigma, but I get that you may not be ready to talk about it. You are not required to. It’s your recovery. Be comfortable with your answer(s) before you attend the event.

Set a time limit for staying and stick to it. Just as important, have an out if you feel the stress building. It can be anything. Early in my recovery, “have to let the dog out” was a good one for me.  Have a person you can call for support if you can’t leave. Your sponsor if you’re in AA.  If you’re not, another law student or lawyer in recovery. Maybe your therapist.  Anyone who can listen with compassion and empathy, and most importantly, be honest with you.

The fear of being in triggering situations is normal as you navigate life in sobriety. The goal should not be to avoid fear. The fear is there to teach you. Learn from it. Plan for it. It’s just one moment in your entire life. It will pass.

Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at