A study carried out by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) has shown that alcohol may not be the only problem for repeat drunk drivers. More than half of those charged with driving under the influence (DUI) have also been diagnosed with at least one mental illness in addition to a drug or alcohol use disorder (AUD). The study indicated that nearly 60 percent of those with two or more DUI convictions reported experiencing symptoms of major depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In terms of differences between gender, women had higher rates of depression while men had higher rates of PTSD. Only those with two or more DUI offenses in the past 10 years were surveyed but over 40 percent of the participants had three or more arrests due to a DUI.

Treatment Not Punishment

Driving restrictions and harsher sentences are the common responses when dealing with those found guilty of repeated drinking and driving. However, stricter penalties are not the answer. If you had an untreated mental illness and abused alcohol in order to cope with your symptoms, losing your driving privileges could mean losing your job as well or jail time, which can result in a further loss of rights. Once offenders return to their to lives, they still have at least one untreated mental illness without the means of managing it. Assessing the mental health of a DUI offender first allows law enforcement to choose the program best-suited for treating that particular individual and reducing the chance of a re-offense.

A graphic drawing the link between DUIs and mental illness.

“Assessing the mental health of a DUI offender first allows law enforcement to choose the program best-suited for treating that particular individual.”

The standard approach to deterring recidivism among DUI offenders only exacerbates the problem as it fails to address the root causes. Alcohol abuse does not occur in a vacuum. There is often some sort of underlying condition that triggers this type of self-destructive behavior. Law enforcement cannot realistically expect that offenders won’t drive while under the influence again if they are discharged without being given options for treatment. Additionally, repeat offenders must be screened for multiple disorders in order to ensure that all conditions are addressed. One principle that should guide all of law enforcement’s actions is the full rehabilitation of all offenders, minimizing the possibility of recidivism. Some of the mental illnesses that commonly occur with alcohol or drug abuse display such symptoms.

An illustration depicting the different types of mental illness.

Dual Diagnosis

Substance abuse and mental illness often go hand in hand. Many individuals turn to alcohol or drugs for relief from the symptoms of an untreated mental disorder or disorders. The abuse of multiple addictive substances, including alcohol, is known to coincide with the emergence of a mental illness or worsen a pre-existing condition.[5] A study of over 100 suspected DUI offenders conducted by Harvard Medical School showed that more than 45 percent of repeat drunk drivers have a major mental disorder aside from alcohol or drug abuse.[6] When mental illness co-occurs with substance abuse or the other way around, the sum of both conditions is known as dual diagnosis.

Mental illness and alcohol abuse have been linked for decades, although the co-existence of both in the same patient has just recently begun receiving the proper attention. Dual diagnosis can range from a person abusing alcohol as an attempt to cope with stress to someone developing a mental condition due to a cocaine habit or worsening symptoms of a psychological disorder by abusing prescription pills. Whatever is behind the substance abuse, it has been conclusively proven that alcohol and drugs only make the symptoms of mental disorders worse and can lead to the development of further mental health problems.[7]

“An accurate diagnosis in the face of overlapping and conflicting symptoms can be difficult for those unfamiliar with dual diagnosis cases.”

In the case of dual diagnosis, each patient represents a unique set of challenges. Determining which condition came first is often impossible and an accurate diagnosis in the face of overlapping and conflicting symptoms can be difficult for those unfamiliar with dual diagnosis cases. Much like secondhand smoke, drunk driving isn’t just dangerous for the driver but for the passengers and bystanders as well. If you or someone you know has a history of alcohol abuse, mental illness or both, help is just a phone call away. At Unity Behavioral Health, our addiction care and mental health experts are qualified to address all aspects of your condition. We are a comprehensive rehabilitation center specializing in dual diagnosis, substance abuse and mental illness. Please give us a call today at 561-708-5295 to learn more.

  1. www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/comorbidity-addiction-other-mental-illnesses/why-do-drug-use-disorders-often-co-occur-other-men
  2. www.pressreader.com/usa/the-times-tribune/20161031/281505045771564
  3. www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Related-Conditions/Dual-Diagnosis

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