Michigan 1st Offense DUI Arrest – An Opportunity to Examine Your Relationship to Alcohol
Most people who pick up a 1st offense DUI do NOT have a drinking problem. That’s a simple fact. However, getting arrested for drunk driving can be a wake-up call for some individuals, and an opportunity for them to revaluate their relationship to alcohol. Plenty of people ask us about getting into counseling or therapy just to “look good,” for their DUI case. That misses the point entirely. In this article, we’re going to try and sort out when a DUI is just an episode of poor judgment versus when it may be a symptom of some kind of troubled relationship with alcohol.
For all the clinical considerations involved in figuring out whether one has a drinking problem or not, many people have a “gut feeling” that something isn’t right. To be sure, there are those who are able to block out or mentally over-talk that little voice inside their head that says “something ain’t right here.” That kind of reasoning against the facts is called “denial,” and some people squander years, and even entire lifetimes, trying to convince themselves that things are okay when, in fact, they’re really not.
It’s actually rather common for those around someone whose drinking has become troublesome to recognize a problem long before the person him or herself does (if he or she ever does). On the flip side, it is unusual for outsiders to “see” a problem that’s not there. In other words, if the people around someone think his or her drinking has grown problematic, it’s quite likely that they’re right. This is especially true for anyone who is currently facing or who has previously had a 1st offense DUI. There’s a good reason for that, and it’s really important in the context of DUI cases.
Over the last several decades, multiple studies have shown that, as a group, people who’ve had even a single, 1st offense DUI have a higher rate of drinking problems than the population at large. Interestingly, if not ironically, this is one of the first things I learned when I began my post-graduate program of addiction studies. It was rather eye-opening for me, because by the time I had started that curriculum, I was a DUI lawyer with over 20 years’ experience. Let me explain the significance of this using a simple example:
Let’s say we’re going to conduct a study comparing 2 groups, each of 2000 people. Both groups will be made up of the proverbial “man or woman on the street.” We’re going to select people at random, and the only requirement for the first group of 2000 is that these people have, or otherwise be intellectually capable of obtaining a driver’s license. In other words, the only people we will exclude are those who are NOT mentally capable of getting a driver’s license.
We’ll call this lot “Group A.”
Next, we’re going to do the same thing all over again, for another group of 2000 people. These people will also be the proverbial “man or woman on the street.” We’re going to select people at random, and we’ll still mandate that these people have, or otherwise be intellectually capable of obtaining a driver’s license. However, we’re going to add one additional requirement: Everyone in this group must either be currently facing or have previously had at a single DUI conviction.
We’ll call this lot “Group B.”
No matter how many different screening instruments (i.e., substance abuse tests) are used, it will always be the case that “Group B” has a measurably higher rate of alcohol problems than “Group A.”
This shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone who spends a lot of time in court handling DUI cases (actually, in Michigan, what everyone calls a DUI is legally termed “OWI,” short for “Operating While Intoxicated“). However, it should stand as a warning that it can be easy to over-generalize from this to think that most people with a 1st offense DUI have a drinking problem.
In that same way, it is a fact that people with blue or green eyes have a higher rate of skin cancer than those with brown eyes. Despite that, it is also a fact that only a small minority of people with blue or green eyes ever get skin cancer. In other words, they are simply part of a higher risk group.
The court system knows that 1st offense DUI drivers are, in fact, part of a higher risk group. The problem is that precisely because the system is “on guard” for that reality, it tends to have a kind of confirmation bias. In other words, the system can “see” problems that aren’t really there. A key part of our job is to make sure the court gets to know the person facing the charge, especially when he or she doesn’t have any kind of drinking problem.
To put this another way, the court system largely takes a “better safe than sorry” approach in all DUI matters. There is no Judge who is going to lose any sleep over the thought that, instead of sending someone to jail for a 1st offense DUI, he or she was required to complete some kind of counseling, even if that turned out to be more than necessary.
This is an important consideration for my team and I, as Michigan DUI lawyers. We must employ an intelligent strategy to make sure our clients are NOT perceived as either having a drinking problem they don’t, or otherwise inaccurately perceived as being “at risk” for one to develop. We have to protect them from getting caught up in that whole “better safe than sorry” thing.
That’s all well and fine on the legal side of things, but let’s circle back to the reality that a 1st offense DUI may or may not be a red flag for a person to take stock of his or her own drinking habits.
Early in this piece I noted that people who’ve been arrested for drunk driving often ask us if getting some kind of help, like seeing a counselor or going to AA, will help their case. I observed that such a question misses the point. In terms of an answer, however, it’s a definite “maybe.”
If someone genuinely feels like his or her relationship to alcohol has become troublesome, or even wonders if he or she has a drinking problem, then speaking with a clinician is likely to be helpful. To be blunt about it, there is probably nobody who “wonders” if he or she has a drinking problem that doesn’t. Few people wind up voluntarily sitting with a counselor (especially after a drunk driving arrest) and asking if their alcohol use is normal, only to be told, “Sure, it’s okay.”
As the old saying goes, “anything that causes a problem IS a problem.”
There is certainly no harm in exploring whether one’s drinking is “off” in some way. At the point where a person begins to wonder about it, then it’s clear that there is some kind of concern that should be be addressed.
To be sure, if someone has to start doing math regarding their drinking, then it’s almost certainly a problem. Think about it: Who makes a list of all the bad things that have happened while drinking and compares them to all the good things that have happened?
Has anyone ever thought, “Well, we got really drunk one lucky night, and that’s when I had my million-dollar idea, and also met the love of my life!”
Instead, what people most often do is look at all the problems caused by alcohol and then try to explain them away. That’s blackjack math, and nothing more than self-deception. That is, in a word, what we have previously described as “denial.”
One of the most common stories among those who do finally quit drinking is how long and how many ways they tried to get a handle on their alcohol use, until they finally realized they couldn’t.
This can be especially difficult for someone who doesn’t drink that frequently, or that much. If a person drinks pretty much every day, wakes up with the shakes and needs a drink first thing in the morning to steady his or her nerves, then it’s a given that something is wrong.
But what about the person who only drinks once in a while, and who is clearly not dependent on alcohol?
Here, we go right back to that sage advice that “anything that causes a problem IS a problem.”
Let’s use a gambling hypothetical to make this clear:
Imagine we have 2 people, Casino Carl and Slot Machine Sally.
Casino Carl doesn’t bet the horses, doesn’t do sports betting, or even play the lottery. A few times a year, at most, he’ll go to the casino (and usually only when it’s someone else’s idea), but other than that, he’s not any kind of “betting man.”
Slot Machine Sally, by contrast, bets on just about everything. She has several betting apps on her phone and always buys a few tickets for the lottery each week.
Sally loves the nickel slots. Although she plays often, she never bets a lot, and, consequently, never loses a lot. Sally is a pharmacist, and makes $120,000 per year. Her husband is in industrial sales, and brings in well over $200,000 per year. Financially, they’re doing quite well. The most Sally has ever lost in a week was about $150.00.
Gambling has never caused any problems for Sally.
By contrast, when Carl goes to the casino, he always winds up losing, and then chasing his losses. He’ll usually take about $200 cash with him, but when that’s gone, he’ll use the ATM to get a cash advance on his credit card.
Every time he loses, Carl just “feels” there is a big win right around the corner to make things right. Last time he was at the casino, he withdrew $2300 on his credit card, which was his limit. At nearly 18% interest, Carl is now only able to make the minimum payments on that card. Worse yet, almost all of his debt is from those cash advances made at the casino.
Although he doesn’t bet often, gambling HAS caused problems for Carl, and therefore IS a problem.
The point here is that a person doesn’t have to be any kind of “big drinker” for drinking to be a problem. It’s a risk thing. There are plenty of people who can drink normally 99% of the time, but it’s during that other 1% that things go wrong and they run into problems.
Who would fly on an airline that boasted “Only 1% of our planes crash; the other 99% land safely!”?
Thus, a person may only drink once in a while, but if he or she is now facing a 1st offense DUI, we come back again to the adage that “anything that causes a problem IS a problem.” This means one will have to ask him or herself some important questions, and, hopefully, answer them honestly.
One of the standard conditions imposed by the courts in all 1st offense DUI cases is that a person cannot consume alcohol while the case is pending, nor while on probation, either. If someone even thinks that’s going to be a big inconvenience, or any kind of problem, then he or she has uncovered a big clue about their relationship to alcohol.
We could explore this subject forever, but our goal here was to point out how a 1st offense DUI presents as an opportunity for a person to assess whether or not his or her relationship to alcohol has grown problematic. Ultimately, if one can be honest with him or herself, and quiet down the internal dialogue enough, there will be that “little voice” in his or her heart of hearts that either says “there might be something here,” or else “nothing to see hear.”
It’s really a question of honesty. A person cannot be honest with anyone else until he or she is first honest with themselves.
Sometimes, it’s good to get a little help with these things. In our roles as DUI lawyers, we regularly help our clients wrestle with these questions. Often, we’ll assist them to find someone with whom they can comfortably explore these issues. After all, a DUI is both a legal problem and a personal problem, and our job is to help the client move past the whole thing. It does little good to simply handle the legal problems and leave a person to struggle with other issues.
In that regard, if you’re facing a DUI charge and looking for a lawyer, be a wise consumer. Read around, and pay attention to how different lawyers explain the DUI process, and how they explain their various approaches to it.
This blog is a great place to start. It is fully searchable, and updated weekly with new, original content. To-date, I have written and published over 610 articles in the DUI section. The reader can find more helpful information here than anywhere else, but don’t take my word for it – look around for yourself.
Once you’ve done enough reading, start checking around. You can learn a lot by speaking with a live person, and that’s exactly what you’ll get when call our office. If your DUI case is pending in the Metro-Detroit area, meaning in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb or one of the surrounding counties, make sure you give our firm a ring, as well.
All of our 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 and explain things. We’ll even be happy to compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.
We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at either 248-986-9700, or 586-465-1980.