Michigan Driver's License Appeals and the Geographic Cure for an Alcohol Problem

September 26, 2011

Within my Driver's License Restoration Practice, about ½ of my Clients have either moved out of state, or live pretty far from the southeast Detroit-area where my Office is located. Wherever they now live, many of my Clients have moved away from where they lived at the time of their last DUI. Sometimes they move for work, other times for different reasons, but the point is that they no longer live in what could be considered their "old stomping ground."

This is important, because very often, the move to somewhere different helps support what's known as a "Sober lifestyle." As I have noted in other articles in the Driver's License Restoration section of this blog, Sobriety is a first requirement in order to win a License Appeal. The whole process of getting and staying Sober is really at the heart of a Driver's License Appeal.

Moving Van1.pngYet it is also well known that there is no such thing as a "geographic cure" for an alcohol or substance abuse problem.

In this article, we'll examine how, in a License Appeal, a move to somewhere new, while not any kind of "cure," in and of itself, can be helpful and persuasive evidence of a person's establishing and maintaining a Sober lifestyle.

Anyone who has been through any kind of IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) Counseling, or who has attended AA for any length of time has heard the general proposition that there is no such thing as "geographic cure" for an alcohol problem. This really means that a person cannot just move away from where they drink, or from their drinking friends, and do nothing more than expect to get better. The urge to drink will soon be too strong to resist, and without any other kind of plan, that person will, sooner or later, wind up back in the saddle, only somewhere different.

And while this generalization may be true, it tends to be at odds with the way the Michigan Secretary of State's Driver Appeal and Assessment Division (DAAD) sees a person's Recovery behavior. The State does, in a very real way, look at all of the changes a person has made as part of their commitment to not drink again, and moving away from bad influences, or, as the AA people say, from "wet faces and wet places," can be a helpful part of that.

Part of the Recovery process for anyone, whether they currently go to AA, used to go to AA but no longer attend, or went through some kind of IOP or Counseling program and never did any AA, is the creation of a "Sober lifestyle." This means they have gotten rid of the drinking friends, no longer frequent bars, and don't go to functions or parties where the primary goal is to drink.

In some cases, a person may move because, as they start the journey of their new-found Sobriety, they simply need to get away from temptation. Sometimes, Clients indicate that the town in which they lived was a little too small. In other cases, a person may move because, without a License, they needed to be closer to work, or by friends or family that could help them out with transportation. Other people simply find work elsewhere. Maybe the Michigan economy left them without other options, or maybe there were just better options somewhere else.

Whatever the catalyst, many people find themselves moving away from the places where they used to drink, and the people with whom they drank.

And as they begin, or continue to work on their Sobriety, not being around those old temptations can help make the "new habits" of a Sober lifestyle become "old habits." And that's a good thing, once living a Sober lifestyle has itself become an "old habit."

Let's examine one way this plays out:

Part of the License Appeal process involves putting together a number of "Letters of Support." These are letters from people attesting to the person's abstinence from alcohol. In many cases where someone has moved away, all of their new co-workers, friends and neighbors have come to know them, since day 1, as a non-drinker.

This means that the letter writer cannot explain about how the person used to drink, but doesn't anymore. They didn't know the person back then. Instead, the letter writer will detail that, in the however many years they've know the person, they have known them only as a non-drinker. If the letter writer is a new, or newer friend, then they can talk about all the activities in which they engage with the person, and how alcohol is NOT a part of that.

The point is that while a move to somewhere new will not, by itself, make a person Recover from an alcohol problem, it does help support the proposition that the person has built a whole new life around being a non-drinker.

The Secretary of State will look favorably upon those things that evidence a person's commitment to Sobriety, and removing one's self from all those people, places and situations with and where a person used to do their drinking only helps that commitment, or helps the person keep it.

In some cases, a move is triggered because the person, in getting Sober, also feels driven to be more productive and successful. Thus, they find better work elsewhere, or a better place to raise their kids, or whatever. It is not uncommon for people, as part of their getting Sober, to become motivated to do better things with their lives. Many people attribute this motivation to getting Sober. In a very real way, they became motivated to do better things as a result of their Sobriety.

I have seen the whole gamut of reasons why people move. Some will outright say that they needed a fresh start, or to get away from the lifestyle that became a part of where they lived.

Whatever the reason or reasons, a change in location can almost always be seen as a helpful thing in the process of getting and/or maintaining one's Sobriety, as long as that move is part of a larger plan to get and stay Sober. It is certainly not enough by itself; a person needs a plan, or tools to carve out an alcohol-free life. But as one of numerous tools in the chest, a change of location can be quite helpful in the Recovery process.

From my point of view, anything that is helpful in a License Appeal is good. Whatever any AA or "Recovery Experts" say about a "geographic cure," the Secretary of State tends to look favorably upon a move to somewhere different as a component of a person's Recovery. And that makes it a good thing for my purposes.