Driving under the influence is a frequently committed crime in the United States. DUI arrests make up about one third of all substance-related arrests.1 In 2014, more than 1.1 million drivers were arrested for DUI involving alcohol or drugs.2
First Time DUI Offenders: Determining What Treatment Is Needed
Those with their first DUI offense may avoid repeat offenses by getting professional treatment for substance use. The first step is a treatment assessment. An assessment determines the person’s background, history of substance use and the circumstances of the offense.
Assessment Factors: Assessment determines the frequency and intensity of alcohol and/or drug abuse. Other factors examined include coexisting mental health conditions, physical health, living situations, relationship issues, employment, finances and criminal history. An assessment determines if any of these factors means a higher risk for repeating offenses.
Treatment: Based on the assessment, court-mandated treatment for DUI offenders will vary regarding levels of care, frequency and length. Some offenders may require a brief course of treatment lasting one or two sessions. Other DUI offenders may require multi-faceted programs lasting a few weeks to several months. Some offenders may need long-term inpatient rehab with aftercare.3
First DUI Offense: Will There Be Another?
Unfortunately, the chances are high that a first DUI offense will be followed with another.
One study looked at the differences between first-time and repeat DUI offenders. Approximately half were repeat offenders. Certain characteristics were found in both groups:
- The demographics of first-time and repeat DUI offenders were similar.
- First-time and repeat DUI offenders also had similar mental health histories.
- Both groups of DUI offenders had high rates of alcohol and illicit drug use.
Due to these common characteristics, it’s likely that driving under the influence by both types of DUI offenders will be a repeated behavior. Treatment could tip the scales toward preventing repeat offenses.
Treatment for DUI Offenders
Different levels of substance abuse treatment could include:
- Mandatory attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings
- Medication assisted treatment
- Dual diagnosis treatment when substance abuse and mental illness coexist
- Individualized counseling sessions with a therapist
- Group meetings with a therapist
- Inpatient residential substance abuse treatment
- Partial hospitalization program
- Outpatient substance abuse treatment
- Intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment
- Aftercare programs
- Sober living homes
Treatment: Is It a Solution or Just a Penalty?
Driving under the influence poses a grave risk to the public, and there is widespread support for strict DUI enforcement and punishment. State legislators and law enforcement agencies attempt to strike a balance between support for meaningful consequences as deterrents and rehabilitation of drivers. Fines, license suspensions, ignition locks and imprisonment won’t deter certain people from getting behind the wheel while under the influence when given the opportunity. Adding treatment as a consequence may be part of a successful long-term solution.
Treatment shouldn’t be viewed as a punishment, but rather an opportunity to discover any underlying issues or mental health conditions that can lead to more serious alcohol or drug abuse. As a result, treatment helps to heal people and create safer communities.