Alcohol, Drugs and Legal Problems – Part 2

In part 1 of this article, we began our examination of drinking (and drug use; the lessons here apply equally) and that uneasy feeling some people get when they get caught up in something like a DUI or criminal charge and they realize that something about their partying behavior (like facing a drinking and driving charge) just isn’t working out the way they want. Many of my clients are people who have found the true joy of getting clean and sober and are now moving ahead toward a driver’s license restoration. On the flip side, many of my clients are people who are a million miles from having any kind of problem and just make a mistake in judgment and get a drunk driving. Others may indulge in the occasional joint and simply get caught being in possession of marijuana. Still plenty of people that I see are dealing with the consequences of alcohol (or drug) use that has gotten out of hand. While I hope a lot of people find something of use in this article, my deepest hope is to extend a hand to the person who is just beginning to open up to the idea that his or her relationship to alcohol or drugs is problematic. We don’t need to describe or label it in anymore detail than that; this is for those who simply have a feeling that something just isn’t right. In this second part, we’re picking up with the idea that quitting doesn’t really have any downside. There is no “missing out” on the fun (and how much fun has it been lately, anyway) but rather about things getting better. A lot better.

wine_glass_3169919b.jpgHere’s the real kicker: When a person quits drinking for good, always, and without exception, his or her life improves. On the one hand, life itself gets way better, while on the other, the storm of never ending (and self made) problems just comes to an abrupt end. As much as someone may wonder how they’ll ever have fun again without alcohol, everyone who has ever gotten sober shakes their head in regret that they didn’t do it sooner. How much fun is drinking right now? How much fun has it been recently? Is it really the grand prize of all prizes to work all week just so you can piss away an entire weekend getting wasted? Is getting drunk on Friday night really the best reward you deserve in life? When people get sober, they get genuinely happy. They look at the people in the bars at night and feel sorry for them. They’re out doing whatever, and they feel a sense of pity for those to whom another night getting toasted is their life’s goal. Sober people know they’re not missing out on anything (by contrast, they know the folks wasting their nights getting hammered are the ones really missing out), and, to a person, they all wish they would have figured this out sooner.

This is the one time in your life when you should act quickly. The biggest waste of your precious little time on this planet is to think too much about this before you act. You can easily get stuck in the paralysis of analysis, where you think about everything, but do nothing. Pick up the phone and reach out for help. Remember my questions: How much fun is drinking right now? How much fun has it been recently? Now, consider this question: What do you think is going to change, and when, that will make drinking fun and safe again? I’ll help you cheat by giving you the answer: Nothing. Not now, not later, not ever. It’s time to grow up and take control over your life. You’ll be incredibly glad that you did. You’ll get back more than you even know you lost, and you’ll move ahead like you never thought possible. Can you think of any way that not drinking will harm you? How many ways has it helped you, lately? It comes back to the fact that those uncomfortable feelings you’re having are “right.” That’s your gut; now is the time to trust it…

When you’re ready, seek out good help, but don’t EVER think any one person has all the answers. Perhaps the single most important lesson I learned from my clinical studies is that, contrary to what some people think, there are as many ways to get sober as there are sober people. Interestingly, it is understood, as matter of fact beyond debate by those who study addiction issues that the American judicial system is about 20 years behind the curve in terms of modern substance abuse treatment protocols. When I first heard this, I almost felt insulted; here I was, a lawyer of 20-plus years, sitting in a University classroom listening to my profession essentially being described as ignorant. I wanted to say something back, but I held my tongue and kept my ears open long enough to learn that the court system is, in fact, out of date in terms of what it thinks of as “treatment.” In the real world, many (if not most) sobriety courts employ the old-school mix of outpatient treatment and AA meetings. That was the treatment protocol of choice – back in 1992. Sure, it still works, but now, as then, this is the right prescription for some people, but certainly not for everyone (and even not for most people). Imagine going to a clinic that only had one kind of antibiotic for everything, or a hardware store that has only one tool – a hammer.

I could go on about this for pages and pages (wouldn’t you love that?), but here’s a simple example that exposes the flaw in the “one size fits all” approach. Imagine that an attractive young woman in her mid-20’s or so gets her 2nd DUI and is ordered to go to 2 AA meetings per week. Because it’s her 2nd offense, she’ll lose her license. Perhaps she doesn’t live near a lot of AA meetings, so the 2 that are most convenient for her are (and this wouldn’t be unusual) attended mostly by middle aged white guys. When she walks into the room, she sees and feels the eyes upon her. Most of the men there are at least 20 years older than she is, and most are, well, middle aged guys whose eye’s light up when she walks into the room. They probably are nice guys, and probably would never say a crass thing, but the “creep factor” for her, when she walks into that room, is so high that she instantly closes off and dislikes AA. For everything she could ever learn through the program, she has, understandably, just shut down and thereby essentially become immune to any potential therapeutic benefit AA could ever hold for her.

So, the question becomes, what kind of sense is there is a court order requiring her to go to meetings nevertheless? Modern thinking is to help a person find the kind of treatment that’s right for him or her. The wrong kind of treatment is really no treatment at all. Some people respond well to one-on-one counseling. That can work, depending on the person, with and without accompanying 12-step (AA) support. Sometimes, one-on-one counseling can be more like regular, old-fashioned talk therapy. In other settings, it can be something more structured, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT). Some people turn to religion (others run from it) and some people find great therapeutic valued in things like biblio-therapy (ever hear of that?) and/or personal journaling. The single-minded, old school approach would scoff at these ideas, but when someone manages a life of sobriety by doing something that works, all we need to do is note that and add it to the ever-growing number of recognized ways people get and stay sober. You can’t argue with success.

To the person contemplating his or her relationship to alcohol, this is good news. It means you don’t have to “join” anything. And yet for all that fluidity, most people get where they are by initially starting out with a more established or traditional counseling and/or 12-step approach. No matter how you cut it, there are basic principles of sobriety that are fundamental to recovery. How and where you pick them up doesn’t really matter, but certain things are not flexible, like the notion that the only way to “fix” a drinking problem is to no longer drink. These are the kinds of things that I spend my time going over with a client who is at least wondering about his or her partying.

It is often overlooked that the formal title of a lawyer is “Attorney and Counselor at Law.” Part of the job, as I noted above, is to counsel. For estate planning lawyers, this may mean helping a client set up trusts and wills and such things in a way to avoid inheritance taxes. For a corporate lawyer, it may involve all kinds of planning before contracts are signed. For a lawyer like me, who works with alcohol-related issues every day, it means understanding much more than the law. Given that DUI cases often involve multiple clinical realities, it became obvious that I would bring a huge advantage to my clients if I understood those things, as well. While understanding the clinical side of things really does allow me to help my client in untold ways, I must live by the admonition that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” I am NOT a substance abuse counselor, nor do I “think” that I am. In my travels, I have met people with law degrees who have never practiced law. They understand my professional language, but if they’re really smart, then they also understand just enough to know that there is a lot they don’t know, and that it is critically important to find a lawyer who is right for the situation at hand. In that same way, I “counsel” my clients about counseling and counselors. I may not be one myself, but I can sure recognize those who are good at helping people from those who are good at selling themselves. As is often the case in many fields, the “top dogs” are often people you’ve probably never heard of before.

We’re now many pages into this article, and here’s what I want the reader to take away from it: If you’re so much as beginning to think about your drinking, then your relationship to alcohol is probably already risky and troublesome. Once you cross into “drinking problem” territory, there is no way to get a hold of things and moderate your drinking. Chances are, you’ve already tried that, probably a lot of times, and haven’t found any success. You won’t no matter how hard and how many times you try. There is, however, help for you; all kinds. You don’t have to sign up for any particular program or undergo what amounts to some kind of religious conversion. Thus, you may love AA, you may hate it; you may never set foot in a single meeting, or, if you do, find out that you just “okay” with it but just don’t get much from it. You don’t have to do anything in particular except find help (the right help, meaning, specifically, the right help for you) to stop drinking. Even if you try to stop and fail, keep trying. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and life can (and will) be way better than you ever thought. There is a saying that people in recovery have: “My worst day sober beats the hell out of my best day drunk.” You can say that someday, and smile when you do. If you have a criminal, DUI or driver’s license situation that involves alcohol or drugs, call me. I’m here to help. My office can be reached, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 am until 5:00 pm (EST) at 586-465-1980.