In a recent article, I looked at how the court system has an inherent bias regarding alcohol in criminal and DUI cases. The examination in that piece was, of course, from my perspective as a Michigan DUI lawyer. A few weeks ago, I received a nice, descriptive email from a past client in which he detailed his experience of having gone through the DUI process. What a gift! Of course, I was glad to hear from my client (he is a really nice guy, and when you read his email, you’ll quickly get a sense of that), but I was even more thrilled at the unexpected gift of a long email that I could use to show what it’s like to go through the DUI probation process from the client’s perspective, especially in light of how my client related it directly to my recent article about “The Alcohol Bias,” where I looked at how the court system is naturally inclined to suspect a drinking problem in just about every OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) case that goes through it. The set up here is important: My client had provided a High BAC breath test result in a drunk driving case that took place in THE undisputed toughest court in the Detroit area, located, of course, in Oakland County.
As you’ll see from the email itself, my client didn’t feel like he had been treated too harshly, or in any way treated unfairly. Instead, he felt the full weight of the court system’s built-in tendency to “over-diagnose” the existence and/or extent of a person’s alcohol problem. The term “over diagnosis” is not some crafty phrase I came up with as a DUI lawyer, but rather something I formally learned about doing post-graduate work in addiction studies. This is a very real concept, well understood in the clinical community, yet virtually unknown in that judicial system that suffers from it. It is relevant here because the facts of this client’s case were somewhat unique, and he was very much at risk to be ordered into an expensive and time consuming IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program), and all kinds of other counseling, education, rehab, testing and treatment. We worked hard and intelligently to minimize that, and, as you’ll see, my client was able to carry away enough from our time together to help himself from being stuck in AA that didn’t “click” with him during his time on probation. AA is great for some people, but certainly not everyone. Unfortunately, the court system is just not in a position to analyze and then act with such clinical precision, so many people find themselves in the cross-hairs of the kind of “over treatment” caused by over diagnosis.
To be clear, I have no dislike for or problem with AA in general, but I believe it is best for those who really need and want it, and will fit well with it. You may go to a particular church and find lots of comfort and inspiration from your Pastor. Good for you. That does not mean, however, that it’s the place for everyone. You may hate my favorite restaurant. Some people thrive in AA, while others hate it; some like it, some tolerate it, and some just don’t connect with it. As the saying goes, “Different strokes for different folks.” The court system, unfortunately, often sees AA as a kind of universal, super-cure-all, even though it is certainly not. If there’s one lesson that seems to go perpetually (and curiously) unlearned, it’s that sending someone to AA who does not belong there, or who is turned off by it, will almost certainly never produce the desired outcome. In other words, if someone is forced into AA who doesn’t like or need AA, then they’re not going to get any help from it. That’s like sending a skinny person to Weight Watchers. Likewise, even if someone needs help, forcing him or her to get it from AA alone is rather short-sighted, given that modern research has and continues to validate an ever-widening panorama of helpful treatment options, including things like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), brief interventions, individual counseling, group therapy and other support groups besides AA (Smart Recovery, Women for Sobriety, ect.). With that as our background, let’s move on to my client’s email (reprinted exactly as written, including typos, with the exception of the removal of his Probation Officer’s name), and get his take on all this: