With a high degree of certainty, a first offense DUI is most likely not a first offense of getting behind the wheel drunk. Unfortunately, a DUI is not usually the result of a single isolated incident but rather a way of life for individuals who may be struggling to cope with other life issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control, an average drunk driver has driven while intoxicated 80 times before their first DUI arrest. By the time someone is arrested for DUI, there is usually an errant pattern in place. It is rare that someone stuck in this pattern of abuse will break free of it without a major intervening incident such as a DUI arrest and the consequences that accompany such an event.
The basis of this destructive pattern of abuse and behavior is often an addiction to alcohol or some other drug in an attempt to mask underlying problems. This masking can be an attempt to self-medicate in an effort to counter feelings that result from underlying problems such as anxiety and depression. Self-medicating is a natural response to feelings of depression, but it is important to remember that alcohol consumption tends to heighten anxiety levels by causing disruption to the nervous system and also by creating situations likely to induce further worry. In a person who is already depressed, adding alcohol into the mix can be extremely dangerous. When alcohol is consumed, it depresses the central nervous system, leaving people feeling even worse than they did before they started drinking. Studies have shown that even while people are drinking alcohol, they generally feel just as depressed as they did before they started drinking, and in many instances they feel even worse once the effects of the alcohol have worn off. It is likely that for some offenders, these underlying mental issues drive both an individual’s alcohol use and DUI behavior.
Despite the prevalence of drinking and driving, a single DUI arrest can be an important indicator of alcohol abuse. A DUI may also be seen as a warning sign for destructive and unhealthy personality traits such as poor judgment, irresponsibility and emotional instability. By using alcohol to feel better, people oftentimes allow their good sense to give way to poor behavioral choices.
The presumption is that with most first-time offenders, court-appointed education rather than counseling or treatment, is all that is needed; however, an arrest for DUI can indicate a need for early intervention to prevent a more serious problem. Treatment strategies designed to bring about changes in the lifestyle of the DUI recipient are essential. Since many individuals who abuse alcohol have encountered problems, such as a DUI, and used it to avoid negative emotions or to manage stress, alternative methods of dealing with common life problems are taught in treatment. The intent of treatment is to provide an individual with skills to use in situations or in response to situations in which alcohol use was the only perceived option available.
Some elements of past behavior can serve as particularly useful guides to what one might expect in the future. Seeking treatment following a DUI arrest can be an effective and valuable tool to help assist individuals in regaining control and developing healthier lifestyle choices.