Once a person’s drinking has gotten to the point of being a problem, he or she faces a simple choice; either quit, or keep going and run into even more problems. Unfortunately, many people who do stop, at least for a while, struggle with the misapprehension that they can somehow, someday, manage to drink again. This misplaced belief is a defining point of addiction, and it stands in direct contradiction to the reality that once you have a problem, you can simply never pick up again. This article will focus on that conundrum, and is really relevant to anyone looking for information about driver’s license restoration, DUI, or other kinds of criminal charges.
The inspiration for this article came from a client of mine for whom I won a driver’s license restoration case, and who just hired me for a new, 3rd offense DUI charge. Although I won’t use his name, I’m quite sure he is the kind of person who would want me to use the details of his story as a warning to help anyone who has supposedly quit drinking to NOT pick up again. My client had been alcohol-free for 10 years after his last DUI, had won back his restricted, and then full driver’s license, and, in the blink of an eye, picked up a single drink that quickly led him down the slippery slope until he got arrested for driving drunk – again.
As DUI and driver’s license restoration lawyers, my team and I spend almost every minute of every workday dealing with the fallout from people drinking. Nobody comes to our office looking to patent some multi-million dollar invention because they got drunk one night and then came up with some great idea. Instead, people contact us because they’ve gotten into trouble, and are facing something like an OWI charge or, having lost their driver’s license as the result of multiple DUI’s, now want to get it back.
At the outset, let’s be clear that most people who get a 1st offense DUI do NOT have a drinking problem. The majority of people who find themselves in the backseat of a police car after being arrested for OWI will never do it again, and don’t have any kind of problematic relationship with alcohol beyond this single incident.
However – and this is really important – it is also a fact that, as a group, DUI drivers do have a statistically increased incidence (rate) of alcohol problems over and above the general population. The following example illustrates that point:
Assume you were instructed to gather a sample group of 1000 random people within the United States. You are told that it doesn’t matter whether they’re male or female, black or white, young or old, nor where they live; they can all reside in California, or half can be from Alaska and half from Florida, or you can get 20 from each of the 50 states, or whatever. The ONLY condition for this random sample of 1000 people is that they must have, or have previously had, a valid driver’s license. We’ll call this “Group A.”
Next, you are told to do the same thing all over again, with the very same conditions, but with 1 more added, as well: everyone in this next sample must either be facing, or have previously had a DUI. We’ll call this “Group B.”
It has been repeatedly shown that no matter how you test them, and no matter how many times you repeat the study, the people in the “B” group will show a higher rate of alcoholism and drinking problems than the people in the “A” group.
Although not the point of this article, the practical implication of this for anyone facing a DUI is that you walk into court as a pre-ordained member of that higher risk group. This is part of the reason courts have what I call an “alcohol bias.”
By the time anyone gets a 2nd offense DUI, everyone in the court system automatically concludes that he or she needs help. Indeed, under Michigan law, anyone convicted of a 2nd DUI is legally presumed to have a drinking problem, and will not only have his or her driver’s license revoked, but can’t get it back until proving that he or she has been alcohol-free for a “sufficient” period of time (at least 1 year, but longer is always better), and, more important, that he or she is a safe bet to never drink again.
In other words, the rule governing license appeals incorporates the most basic tenet of recovery (and a fundamental premise of AA) – that once you quit drinking, you can never drink again. There is no such thing as a person who used to have a drinking problem. There are only people whose drinking used to be a problem, and who got past that by quitting for good.
Over the course of my career, I’ve handled lots of DUI cases for people who had stopped drinking for various periods of time (often years on end), only to pick up again and get in trouble.
One of the key lessons of AA is that alcoholism is a progressive disease, and that it only either goes into remission at whatever stage a person puts the plug in the jug, so to speak, or it continues to get worse. This ties into another AA truism – the idea that if a person does pick up again, after stopping for any amount of time, he or she will resume drinking right where they left off.
Some people confuse this with a tolerance to alcohol, but that gets it wrong. Let me clear that up so I can make the point: If Dave the drinker used to consume the better part of a fifth of whiskey every night at home, after work, and then quits drinking for several years, of course, he’ll get drunk after only a few shots, and could not start back drinking at anywhere near the quantity he was used to.
The idea of picking up where one left off isn’t about the amount that someone drinks; it refers to the habits and style of drinking. No matter what, Dave will soon be drinking at home again, every night, even if when he starts back he finds that a mere half-pint is more than enough to get him drunk. What Dave won’t do, and what nobody in the history of recovery has ever done, is go from being a heavy, nightly drinker with an alcohol problem, to someone who can now have the occasional cocktail or glass of wine with dinner.
The mystery, however, is that lots of people who for whom drinking has been obviously problematic think that somehow, they can.
The truth is that the very moment a person has to so much as think about controlling or limiting his or her drinking, it means that he or she already has a problem. Normal drinkers don’t have to think that way. A person without a troubled relationship to alcohol doesn’t have to think about his or her drinking at all, much less approach it with any determination to “manage” it.
This is obvious to just about everyone who doesn’t have a drinking problem, but, as addiction goes, it’s a reality that eludes the person who is struggling. Another example helps make this clear:
On several occasions in my life, I’ve had people make small talk and tell me about their weekends, and how they went to the casino on Friday or Saturday. Just to be polite, I’d kind of joke, in reply, that I don’t have enough money to afford to lose by gambling. To my surprise, more than a few people have actually said to me that they have a workaround to prevent that; they’ll only take as much money as they can afford to lose, and/or will leave their credit or debit card at home so that once they’re out, they don’t get more through a cash advance.
Personally, I could be dropped off at a casino with $10,000 cash, and I probably wouldn’t lose even $20 because I don’t really care for gambling. If I did lose $20, I’d be regretting the fact that I could have bought a nice meal with that money, instead of having thrown it down the drain.
Since I don’t gamble (my wife has to kind of get on me to buy a Powerball ticket when the jackpot gets into the hundreds of millions), and therefore don’t have a gambling problem, it never crosses my mind to have to control, limit or manage my wagering. Even when I do buy a Lotto ticket, I’m good with 1 or 2 easy picks.
Here’s the thing about my client’s situation: It’s one thing to get someone to the point of actually quitting drinking (or using drugs, or gambling) in the first place, and it’s a darn good day when they do finally stop.
However, the real trick is to make that last.
One of the ironies of addiction is that there always a little voice in someone’s ear that keeps saying something like “it’s okay now; you can have just one.”
An important part of recovery is equipping a person to ignore that kind of thinking, and just accept that he or she can never pick up or indulge again.
The simple bottom line to this rather complex problem is this: you will NEVER meet a person who went from being a problem drinker to a normal drinker. Moreover, I guarantee that nobody reading this ever has.
Oh sure, you may have heard some blowhard spew a line of BS about how he used to drink like a fish, but now only has the occasional beer once in a while. The truth, however, is that his perception and the reality of that are 2 completely different things.
You can take this to the bank: the only way to “fix” a drinking problem is to stop drinking for good.
As long as such a person doesn’t drink, there is no problem. The minute he or she picks up again, however, that all goes out the window. My team and I have met plenty of people who blew a period of sobriety by picking up again and having a toast at a wedding, or getting drunk for a single night or weekend, only to pull out of that tailspin and realize how much power alcohol could still wield over them.
Those are the lucky ones, unlike the client who inspired this article.
There is a silver lining to this, at least for those who do manage to stop drinking yet again, because relapse can be the most powerful teacher of all. For everything a person hears in AA, counseling or treatment about how they can’t pick up again, and for as much as a person may “know” that to be true in some instinctive way, to a certain degree, they have to accept that as an article of faith.
That all changes when they pick up again. Anyone who does manage to stop drinking after a slip will admit that, as much as it sucked, relapse leaves a strong and undeniable impression. The idea that a person can never drink again suddenly transforms from a matter of belief and theory to a lesson learned the hard way. It’s as if a person put their hand on the hot stove once and got burned, and then, for whatever reason, tried it again, a second time, leaving no doubt that yes, it does burn…
That’s our grand point here: once you quit drinking, you can never go back. The irony, of course, is that as the last paragraph makes clear, no matter how many stories a person hears, until he or she does learn the hard way, it takes a degree of faith to really accept that once your drinking becomes problematic and you stop, you simply cannot pick up again. It is my most sincere hope that the reader will have that faith, stay quit, and not have to learn this lesson by mistake.
Whatever your relationship to alcohol is or was, if you’re facing a DUI or other criminal charge, or, if you are looking to have your driving privileges restored after multiple DUI’s and need a lawyer, be a good consumer and do some comparison shopping. Read what lawyers write, and how they explain things. When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around.
All of my consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions, explain things, and even compare notes with what other lawyers have said. We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST), at 586-465-1980.