It is an established fact that DUI drivers, as a group, have a statistically higher incidence of drinking problems than the population at large. In this article, I want to take a kind of private look at how this may apply to you, the reader. I want to concentrate on how and why a person facing an OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) charge may look inward and question whether his or her relationship to alcohol has become risky or troublesome. In my role as Detroit-area (Wayne, Oakland and Macomb County) DUI lawyer, I have written a lot about how an important part of my job is to protect my clients from being perceived as having a drinking problem they don’t, or having one more serious than is actually the case. These are valid concerns because there is a very real built-in “alcohol bias” in the court system. None of this, however, is the least bit helpful to anyone who knows, suspects, or even just wonders if his or her drinking has become problematic. Because of my clinical background and training, I can help explore this subject far more thoroughly than if I was just another lawyer.
At its simplest, there are 3 kinds of drinkers in the world: 1.), those that don’t think they have a problem, 2.), those who wonder if they do, and, 3.), those who know they do. It goes without saying that most people who drink do NOT have a problem with it, so the vast majority of those who don’t think they have any kind of problem are correct. Denial, however, is an early marker in every case of troublesome drinking, so this means that some of the people who don’t think they have a problem actually do. How to unravel that denial can become the work of a lifetime, and to date, no one has found a way to help someone with their drinking who isn’t otherwise “ready,” so we’ll leave that topic behind and focus, instead, on those who wonder if, or already know, that their drinking has become a problem.
Because of my specific educational background (beyond law school, I completed a post-graduate program of addiction studies) and the DUI focus of my practice (I handle a ton of drunk driving cases), I work with plenty of clients who either know that they need help or are otherwise at least open to talking to someone about their drinking. You might think that would make my job easier, because it would seem like I could just skip the work involved in protecting them from being treated by the court as if they do have a problem, but that’s not the case. In fact, over-diagnosis, both in terms of finding problems that aren’t there, and assessing alcohol problems as having problems more serious than they really are, is widespread both within the clinical world, and even more a problem in the court system. Part of the problem within the court system is that the assessment of a person’s drinking (i.e., the diagnosing) is done by a probation officer, and not an actual clinician. Although it is more convenient for the courts to do it this way, having a probation officer (PO) screen a DUI driver for an alcohol problem is decidedly non-clinical. As crazy as it sounds, this isn’t much different than if the PO was expected to screen someone for depression or some other mental health disorder. In the context of any DUI case of mine, I am thankful that I have the clinical knowledge to make sure my client doesn’t get ordered into any unnecessary treatment, or otherwise forced into some kind of “help” that isn’t a good fit for him or her. That said, let’s circle back to looking at your relationship to alcohol.