Articles Posted in Alcohol Bias

In parts 4 and 5 of this article, we continued our analysis of why it’s more important to accurately understand a person’s relationship to alcohol than it is to label it, having shifted our focus from DUI cases to in parts 1, 2, and 3, to Michigan driver’s license appeal cases in parts 4 and 5. Here, in part 6, we’ll finish this examination, pickup up right where we left off, and continue looking at the imprecise but ongoing use of the term “alcoholic” in license restoration cases, and why that’s important.

lkjl-300x263In the world of driver’s license restoration appeals, the idea that a person may be an alcoholic isn’t fixed in any kind of quest for diagnostic specificity, nor is using it an attempt to label someone as having a problem that’s somehow “worse” than it actually is. In a license reinstatement case, the term “alcoholic” is often used in the broadest sense – to describe someone who knows that he or she has come to a point where they simply can’t drink anymore. That a person understands this is crucial in a Michigan driver’s license restoration case.

Remember, to win a license restoration or clearance appeal, a person must prove 2 things, by what the law defines as clear and convincing evidence: First, that his or her alcohol problem is “under control,” meaning they haven’t had a drink in a legally sufficient period of time, and second, that his or her alcohol problem is “likely to remain under control,” which means he or she has both the ability and commitment to never drink again.

In this 5th part of this series, we’re going to continue our examination, from part 4, of how the specific nature of a person’s relationship to alcohol is more important than any label term (like “alcoholic”), within the context of Michigan DUI and driver’s license restoration cases. Here, we’re going to flip things around a bit and see how such labels, however obsolete in the clinical setting, still linger in people’s minds, and how that plays a role in the license appeal process.

bbb-300x278In license restoration cases, my team and I see every stage of alcohol problems, from the very mildest to, those who were that kind of last-gasp drinker, to everyone in-between. As I noted before, nobody goes from being a normal drinker one day to a full-blown, dried-up, last gasp drunk the next. The Michigan Secretary of State knows that a troubled relationship to alcohol builds over time. As a result, its primary concern is where a person is with that, both in terms of their past drinking and whether or not he or she truly believes they can’t ever drink again.

As pointed out in part 3, AA people tend to identify as “alcoholic” more than everyone else, and they do that independent of any formal diagnosis. In other words, an AA member that might otherwise merely be characterized as having a “drinking problem,” more than being any kind of “alcoholic,” is still more likely to simply describe him or herself as alcoholic as opposed to someone  who is not in AA. The reason this matters is because, by accepting that label, the person also accepts that he or she cannot ever safely drink again, and knows that, if they do ever pick up again, it’s nothing less than a relapse.

In parts 1, 2, and 3 of this article, we examined how, within the context of a DUI case, a person’s actual relationship to alcohol matters far more than the label slapped upon it. Starting here, in part 4, and continuing in parts 5, and 6, we’re going to survey this same topic, but within the setting of Michigan driver’s license restoration and clearance appeals. We’ll see how old thinking, and the use of terms like “alcoholic” can (and does) clash with modern diagnostic terms although they are still used, and to a certain extent, still useful.

man-turning-down-whisky-nnn-300x267It is key, at the outset, to understand that the primary focus of a license appeal is upon a person’s relationship with alcohol – past, present, and future. Specifically, the Michigan Secretary of State requires that a person prove, by what is called clear and convincing evidence, that his or her alcohol problem is both “under control” and “likely to remain under control.” This basically means that anyone filing a license appeal is automatically presumed to have a drinking problem, and must prove that he or she has really given up alcohol for good.

A lot of people come to us after having lost a ”do-it-yourself” license appeal, or after having hired some lawyer who didn’t concentrate in license restoration cases, and then losing. What we see in many of these cases is that the person had never spoken with anyone who really examined and helped him or her understand the nature of their relationship to alcohol, much less helped him or her understand where that falls on the continuum of drinking problems, from none whatsoever, all the way to out of control.

In part 2 about the importance of accurately understanding one’s actual relationship to alcohol in a Michigan DUI case, rather than that just labeling it, I noted that it has been repeatedly demonstrated that, as a group, DUI drivers do have a statistically higher rate of drinking problems than the population at large. I then pointed out that this is not forgotten when a person undergoes the mandatory alcohol assessment and probation interview required as part of all DUI cases.

piophiuhb-300x294Remember, precisely because of the higher rate of drinking problems among DUI drivers, compared to the rest of society, everyone walking into court for a DUI is considered part of an “at risk” group, and proper preparation for the mandatory alcohol assessment and probation interview must take that into account. The very fact that a person has gotten a DUI is enough for just about every court, in just about every case, to see the person as at least a little bit risky, and therefore require him or her to at least complete some kind of alcohol education class, classes, or program.

If, as a result of that assessment and interview, a person is thought to be anything more than a minimum risk to either have, or to develop a drinking problem, then he or she will be almost certainly be required to complete some kind of counseling program in addition to, or instead of, a simple alcohol education program. With the kind of tests used by the courts, it is much easier to “score” a person as either having a drinking problem (or not), than it is to conclude he or she has an increased potential for one to develop. That’s where the risk really lies for anyone going through a drunk driving case.

In part 1 of this article, we began looking, within the context of a Michigan DUI case, at the importance of accurately assessing a person’s relationship with alcohol. I noted that getting an accurate picture of someone’s drinking is far more important than attaching any kind of label (like “alcoholic”) to it. We saw that, ultimately, it’s not how much a person drinks that matters, but rather what can happen when he or she does drink. In this second installment, we’ll continue looking at how this actually plays out in DUI cases, particularly in 1st offense DUI cases.

image-asset-300x245As I noted in part 1, there is merit – with caution – in the saying that “anything that causes a problem IS a problem,” particularly when it comes to drinking. If a person who has been drinking more than they should winds up getting a DUI, it usually doesn’t come as much of a surprise. However, it’s important to remember that there are also plenty of people who wind up getting a DUI simply because they made a mistake in judgment one night, and not because they have any kind of underlying drinking problem.

We basically characterized this as the difference between a one-time accident versus a likely consequence of ongoing, troublesome behavior. We then noted that drinking problems almost always begin unnoticed, and that the initial signs are easily overlooked. When things like hangovers start to become more than just a “fluke” occurrence, people are able to easily compensate for them. These “inconveniences,” small at first, are the first real signs of problematic drinking.

As Michigan DUI and driver’s license restoration lawyers, we deal with alcohol, drinking, and the consequences caused by it every single day. In this article, I want to examine how a person’s true relationship to alcohol matters far more than any label about it, like the vague concept of an “alcoholic.” We’ll examine this in 6 parts: in this first and then the 2nd and 3rd installments, we’ll look at it in the context of DUI cases, and then, in the 4th,  5th  and 6th parts, within the framework of driver’s license restoration appeals.

lkjoh-272x300As DUI and driver’s license restoration lawyers, the daily experience we have with alcohol issues is broad and extensive: on the one hand, a DUI case can involve nothing more than an otherwise normal drinker having overindulged on a single occasion. On the other hand, we may have a driver’s license restoration client who has finally gotten sober after a decades of heavy drinking that has resulted in liver damage and multiple DUI’s. As lawyers – and because we neither punish nor treat people – they are usually willing to open up to us more than with just about anyone else. As a result, we have heard and seen it all over the years.

One thing we often hear from DUI clients, especially those who are repeat offenders or who have really high BAC results, is a concern that the court is “going think I’m an alcoholic,” or an outright statement that “I’m not an alcoholic!” In the bigger picture of life, it couldn’t matter less whether a person meets some fuzzy definition of “alcoholic” or not. Instead, what really matters is whether or not his or her drinking has begun to cause problems. As the saying goes, “anything that causes a problem IS a problem.”

In the previous articles about the alcohol bias, I explained how it can result in “seeing” problems that aren’t there, or seeing those that do exist as worse than they really are. As a result, unnecessary counseling or treatment is often ordered by courts, or, when some kind of help IS warranted, what does get ordered may be far more intense than what is really needed by the person who has to go through it. I’ve pointed out that a rather general explanation for this is a pervasive notion in the court system that “it’s better to be safe than sorry.” In this article, I want to try and look at things from the court’s (safe) side of things.

Point-Counterpoint-B-300x300The fact that this “other side” can be examined in a piece about 10 times smaller than the larger examination of of the alcohol bias says something, to be sure. Even so, the courts do have some genuinely valid concerns. For as much as there is to dispute the basis of the alcohol bias in the court system, we should, in all fairness, consider the things that support it, as well. For example, as much as the alcohol bias is subconscious, every Judge is always aware that, when sentencing someone for a DUI charge, instead of ordering any kind of counseling or treatment, they can just send the person to jail.

In the blink of an eye, and given that choice, every person I have ever met would much rather go to all the counseling and meetings in the world, rather than get locked up. Although the end result can be imperfect, it is almost always the intention of the court system is to provide a DUI driver with whatever level of education or counseling he or she needs, or that will be beneficial to him or her. The underlying objective of the sentence in every DUI case is really two-fold: on the one hand, what’s ordered should be disincentive enough to convince the person to never drive drunk again, while, on the other hand, it should provide the appropriate level of education or/or counseling to address whatever issues may have led up to the DUI in the first place, in order to avoid a repeat performance.

In part 1 of this article, we began a summary overview of the alcohol bias in the court system. This 2-part article is meant to both summarize some of the key points of its 8-installment big brother, and, hopefully, convince the reader that there’s enough to all this to make it worth his or her time to read the larger piece. The alcohol bias underlies everything about Michigan DUI cases, and there’s no way to even touch upon its key aspects in any shorter format. The alcohol bias – the idea that most DUI drivers either have, or are at risk to develop a drinking problem, and should, therefore, be treated accordingly – is really the reason the DUI process in Michigan plays out as it does.

imagesWe left off, in part 1, by noting that the alcohol bias makes people in the court system “see” an alcohol problem even where there isn’t one, and to magnify any risk factors or actual problems that do exist so that they’re perceived as worse than they actually are. This, in turn, gives rise to the “better safe than sorry” mindset that is pervasive within the court system. Although it’s not a big deal to send ever 1st offender for some kind of preventative education, the alcohol bias has consequences well beyond just that.

In a certain way, the alcohol bias is almost self-powering. While there are plenty of things that can lead a Judge, probation officer, or anyone in the court system to “see” drinking problems, the ugly reality is that they encounter very little to ever contradict that notion. For example, the number of people who go to trial and successfully defend against a DUI charge in Michigan is so low, you have to read the numbers twice to believe them:

This article about the alcohol bias in Michigan DUI cases is not intended to be a “Cliff Notes” or a summary of the larger, 8-part article examining how it functions in the court system. If anything, I hope that what the reader finds here will motivate him or her to read all 8 installments of the larger piece. The alcohol bias, at its most basic, is the pre-supposition, within the court system, that essentially results in everyone going through a DUI being treated as if they either have, or are at risk, to develop a drinking problem.

BOTTOM_LINE_LOGO_0-66-284x300The bias generally operates beneath the consciousness of everyone working in the courts, even though it really is a controlling factor in how DUI cases are processed. The implication of the alcohol bias is the idea that most DUI drivers are risky drinkers, and should be treated as such. This notion is strongly supported by studies consistently showing that DUI drivers, as a group, have a statistically higher incidence of alcohol problems than the population at large. As true as that may be, the other implication, too often overlooked, is that plenty of people showing up for a 1st offense DUI case DO NOT have a drinking problem.

Rather than taking a chance of missing someone who either has an actual drinking problem, or  who is otherwise at risk for one to develop later, the courts believe that “it’s better to be safe than sorry.” As a result, just about every court, in almost every DUI case, requires at least some level of alcohol education, if not counseling and/or treatment for just about every 1st-time offender. The real-world effect of the bias is that anyone going through a DUI will, at a minimum, have to do some drinking prevention type “stuff.”

In part 7 of this article, we continued our examination of the role of the alcohol bias in DUI cases. I made clear that while just about any lawyer can tell a person what they want to hear in order to get a retainer, a good and honest lawyer won’t do that. As it turns out, there is a cost to telling people what they need to hear, and it’s calculable in dollars NOT paid by people who fall for the hopeful marketing techniques of those lawyers who make it seem like having your entire DUI case dismissed is just a matter of hiring them. Beyond the honesty and integrity of my team, I have a formal, post-graduate education in addiction studies that I use to protect my clients from getting slammed with unnecessary counseling and treatment. Because of what’s in our heads and in our hearts, my team and I just “know” certain things that we can’t ignore simply to make a buck.

Blog-StandingonBooks-1000x667-217x300For all my self-aggrandizement about my clinical background, the reason I have it in the first place is even more important than the formal education itself: the other half of our practice, directly related to DUI, is driver’s license restoration appeals, where understanding and proving sobriety is the absolute key to success. On that front, we know about the development, diagnosis and treatment of alcohol problems well enough to guarantee to win every initial driver’s license restoration or clearance case we take. In handling over 200 license appeals each year, we hear about and explore, on a daily basis, how people recover from drinking problems. A person can only truly understand recovery when he or she truly understands how alcohol problems develop in the first place.  To really see how all this works this, a person must be able to look past the alcohol bias.

In a driver’s license restoration appeal, we have to go over every aspect of a person’s drinking, right up to his or her decision to finally quit. In doing so, we hear all about the struggles, the false starts, and slips (relapses) along the way. Ultimately, we get to what finally worked for a person to get sober. This perspective gives us the benefit of 20-20 hindsight in seeing how people do, in fact, recover from a drinking problem. We get to reverse engineer drinking problems, and how they got “fixed.” We hear people explain what did and didn’t work on their various journeys to get sober, and we hear the stories of what things resonated with people, and what didn’t.