Brian Cuban: The Recovering Lawyer

Will My Insurance Pay for Rehab?

Sponsored Legal Stuff - This is an advertisement for Service Industries, Inc., part of a network of commonly owned substance abuse treatment service providers. Responding to this ad will connect you to one of Service Industries, Inc.’s representatives to discuss your insurance benefits and options for obtaining treatment at one of its affiliated facilities only. Service Industries, Inc. Service Industries, Inc. is unable to discuss the insurance benefits or options that may be available at any unaffiliated treatment center or business. If this advertisement appears on the same web page as a review of any particular treatment center or business, the contact information (including phone number) for that particular treatment center or business may be found at the bottom of the review.

Brian Cuban: The Recovering Lawyer

By Seth Ferranti 07/05/17

I don’t wallow in the past with regret or engage in revisionist recovery wondering how things might have been different, but my past is an integral part of my present and future.

Image: 
Brian Cuban picture
The Fix interview with Brian Cuban, brother of billionaire Mark Cuban and former lawyer turned writer, about addiction, recovery, and his new memoir. photo via Brian Cuban

Even though Brian Cuban uses the term “rock bottom,” he’s not a fan. He thinks it's a phrase that’s been stereotyped into a public belief that people with alcohol or drug issues must experience the absolute worst in their lives before recovery begins. He believes it becomes an excuse for those dealing with addiction to not seek help--they haven’t experienced consequences or hit “rock bottom” so they think there’s no need to get treatment. This was something Brian saw frequently in dealing with lawyers, who may be very high functioning but who struggle with drug and alcohol problems just the same. As long as they see no consequences from their problematic behavior in the present, they see no reason to change anything to save their future.

Brian’s recovery tipping point was in April 2007 after a two-day cocaine, Jack Daniels and Xanax-fueled black out. His girlfriend at the time (now wife) came home from a weekend trip to find him passed out in bed with drugs and alcohol all around him. That resulted in his second trip to a local psychiatric facility (the first was two years earlier when he was taken by his two brothers after a near suicide). Many would consider this “rock bottom,” but for Brian it wasn’t. He wasn’t ready for recovery, but his family had reached the point where that fuzzy area between love and enabling had become clear. The thought of losing his family was unbearable to Brian and at that moment, it was more powerful than his addiction. 

In The Addicted Lawyer: Tales of the Bar, Booze, Blow, and Redemption, Brian, the brother of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, details his journey. The Fix sat down with Brian to discuss how his substance use affected his career as a lawyer, his long-term recovery from addiction and body dysmorphic disorder, and why so many lawyers struggle with mental health issues. 

photo via Brian Cuban

Let’s talk about your addiction and how it affected your career as a lawyer?

It played a large part in the end of my career as a lawyer. I went from a successful attorney making well over six figures a year to no clients at all in about four years. The cycle of all night cocaine and alcohol binges (often alone in my bedroom) followed up by either Ambien or black market Xanax the next day did not leave much time for court, clients and meetings. When I was able to drag myself to the office or into the courtroom, it was necessary to hit the bathroom for lines of cocaine both to counteract the effects of lack of sleep and to find that elusive high I had been chasing since the early days of my cocaine use to create the confident Brian those highs had once given me but were long gone.

A lot of people would think being the brother of Mark Cuban you have it made, but you’ve been through your ordeals. Explain what happened to you in that context?

In terms of being the brother of someone famous, it certainly had an impact on my drug and alcohol use. That of course is not Mark’s or any family member's fault. Recovery, accountability and a healthy self is my responsibility. As I battled addiction and body dysmorphic disorder, I had no sense of self or identity. Everything I did wrapped around the desire for love and acceptance from others and of myself. The “Name Fame” associated with Mark’s celebrity created a false environment of those feelings.

All of a sudden, I was popular with women, could walk through any line at a popular nightclub. Free drinks and free drugs. Superficial relationships with girls half my age with the only common thread being cocaine. In my mind at that time, it was better to be “Mark’s brother” than the person I was who I was so ashamed and embarrassed to be so I embraced the name fame. During that time my drug and alcohol use escalated rapidly and my career as a lawyer began a very rapid decline with it.

Do you think addiction is a disease or more of a mental or behavioral disorder?

That is a great question and one that I have had numerous discussions about. It is also a topic interwoven in the stigma of addiction. From my viewpoint, we have to distinguish between the general nature of addiction and the biological process of physical dependence. The two things are not always one and the same and a nuance I have seen people get confused about time and time again. When I did that first line of cocaine in a bathroom in Dallas Texas in 1987, I instantly became addicted, not biologically but psychologically in needing to have that elusive feeling of confidence again and again. During that time my addiction, in my opinion, was purely psychological but there was also a brutal detox due to the physical dependence that developed over time. After that detox was over, however, the recovery was 100 percent dealing with psychological issues dating back to childhood. The body dysmorphic need to see a Brian in the mirror who was loved and accepted.

Addiction certainly has many of the same characteristics as a disease; there are also profound differences which is why I tend to cringe when its compared to things like cancer, diabetes, etc. to make the disease point. I personally do not think these comparisons are helpful. We can deal with addiction on its own terms without getting caught up in polarizing, nonproductive debates on this issue instead of uniting to find a solution. Comparing addiction to cancer and other afflictions, in my opinion, does not unite, it divides. There are those who believe that addiction is a pure choice and arguing about whether it’s the same as cancer is not conducive to changing those minds. It is also not conducive to recovery for many. Treatment should be tailored to the specific issues of the person versus a cookie cutter disease treatment model. My treatment not only included 12-step but [also] intensive therapy to deal with those issues dating back to childhood that had nothing to do with a “disease.”

How did you overcome your addiction and move on with life?

In terms of “overcoming”: It has been a 10-year process that is ongoing. Lots of 12-step. Lots of therapy. I am not as active in 12-step as I once was for a number of reasons but I still see a therapist on a weekly basis and take medication to control both my body dysmorphic disorder and clinical depression. In terms of moving on with life, I am not sure that I have “moved on” or want to. I don’t wallow in the past with regret or engage in revisionist recovery wondering how things might have been different, but my past is an integral part of my present and future. Many work to forget, I work to remember. Every day I try to remember something new about my life in addiction and look for lessons that I can take personally in my long-term recovery and pass on to someone else if they are interested. Every day I think about that teenage Brian, and tell him he was loved and is loved. This is part of who I am and what makes me happy and ever-growing as a person. From that standpoint, I do not want to move on. I want to grow. The painful past helps me grow.

Why do you think lawyers have so many problems with addiction and mental health?

Let’s start with the hard statistics about lawyers and drinking. A recent study conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association found that up to 21 percent of licensed, employed lawyers qualify as problem drinkers; for lawyers under age 30, it’s 31.9 percent. When you compare that to a general population rate of just under 7 percent of Americans having a drinking problem. The rates are comparable for depression. From the standpoint of problem drinking and mental health, we are a profession in crisis. Why is the profession dealing with these issues at such as high rate? There are a few reasons but there are some common threads I’ve seen in talking to both law students and lawyers.

As a profession, we are often ‘culturalized’ that being vulnerable is a weakness to be taken advantage of or to take advantage of in others as part of the adversarial process, [and] we often fail to recognize our own vulnerability as something that is a key component of recovering from substance use and other mental health issues. Rather than ask for help and then allow ourselves to be helped, we tell ourselves that as long as we are functioning on a certain level and there are no consequences, there is no need to face our own humanity. Of course as often happens, we may continually redefine our definition of “high functioning” as addiction takes its toll.

What is like life for you today in recovery?

Life today is very simple for me. In getting sober, like many I shrunk my world to those who support my recovery and shed the things that were triggering and destructive. I live that way today and am very happy. I recently got married to the person who had a million reasons to leave, but who stood by me at my worst and supported my recovery journey. I do a lot of public speaking about my journey and spend a lot of time talking to lawyers and law students and frankly anyone who reaches out to me about recovery in the hope that they can take something from my experiences that will motivate them to take that first, second, or third step in their journey.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Disqus comments
seth-ferranti.jpg

After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don Diva, Hoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The Fix, VICE, OZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com.

Disqus comments