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Am I an Alcoholic? (A DUI Does NOT Define You)

Home Blog DUI Am I an Alcoholic? (A DUI Does NOT Define You)

A DUI charge does not mean that a person has a drinking problem. In fact, most people arrested for drunk driving do NOT. However, in some cases, a drunk driving arrest can be a sign that someone’s relationship with alcohol has become troublesome.

How do you tell the difference?

In this article, we’re going to look at both the personal and legal side of this. Even if you don’t have any kind of alcohol use disorder, it will be helpful to understand how the courts are going to evaluate your drinking habits in the context of a DUI case.

This article is important for anyone facing a DUI charge, meaning both those who don’t have a drinking problem and those who might (or do):

  • If you don’t, then this piece will make you better prepared for the DUI court process, including the mandatory alcohol screening (more on that later).
  • For anyone who wonders if his or her drinking has become troublesome, we’ll provide the tools to help answer that question.

Although what we’ll cover here will focus mostly on those people arrested for a 1st offense DUI, it’s also relevant to anyone facing a 2nd offense or 3rd offense DUI charge, as well.

Does Getting a DUI Mean You Have a Drinking Problem?

The simple truth is that DUI (OWI) cases sometimes just “happen” to otherwise law-abiding, upstanding people who don’t have any kind of drinking problem. These are the people my team and I most often represent, and they are the kind who never imagined themselves in the back of a police car, wearing handcuffs.

For them, the whole experience of being arrested seems like something out of a bad movie. Most of the clients our firm represents possess plenty of what is called “social capital,” meaning they have these three things:

  1. Good jobs. In fact, some hold occupational or professional licenses.
  2. Strong connections to their community.
  3. While they may consume alcohol socially, very few often engage in reckless or risky drinking behavior.

Statistically speaking, most people arrested for a 1st offense DUI do NOT have a drinking problem.

However – and as we noted – it is also true that some of those arrested DO, in fact, have some kind of troubled relationship to alcohol. Our job, as Michigan DUI lawyers, is really two-fold:

  • First, to protect those who don’t have an alcohol problem from being treated like risky drinkers, and
  • Second, to assist those who do have, or even wonder if they have some kind of alcohol use disorder, to get the kind of help that’s a good fit for them.

That sounds great, but it must be done with an understanding that the court system has a built-in tendency to “read” a drinking problem into everyone who winds up facing a drunk driving charge.

There is a reason for this: Repeated studies have shown that, as a group, people who have been arrested for a DUI have a higher rate of drinking problems than those who have not.

This makes sense when you think about it. What matters most, though, is that it is an ever-present reality that affects every DUI case that goes through the court system.

Will I Have to Undergo a Substance Abuse Assessment After a DUI?

Yes, every single person who goes through a DUI in Michigan must be screened and undergo an alcohol assessment. This is done by completing a legally required written screening “test” (or what might be called an “alcoholic quiz”) to determine if he or she has or is at risk of developing a drinking problem.

The screening itself is done by the court’s probation department. The big concern here is that every DUI driver starts out as automatically presumed to be at increased risk to either have or develop a problem with alcohol precisely because he or she is taking the test as the result of a drunk driving arrest.

That doesn’t change the fact that only a minority of those arrested for DUI do, in fact, have a problem with alcohol. Neither, however, does it change the statistical fact that, as a group, those arrested for drunk driving are more likely to engage in some kind of risky or troubled drinking behavior (as evidenced by their current DUI).

The results of the legally required alcohol screening are used by the probation department to make a formal written recommendation to the judge advising what kind of education, counseling, testing, and/or alcohol treatment program should be ordered as part of the sentence in each DUI case.

The court system, for its part, will always (and understandably) take a “better safe than sorry” approach to education, counseling, and/or treatment—especially when it’s ordered INSTEAD of jail time.

Even so, unnecessary treatment and/or counseling is not only an undue (and expensive) burden to those who don’t need it, but it is also a waste of precious resources better used for those who really do.

The DUI Numbers Don’t Lie

The overwhelming majority of DUI cases are resolved through a plea bargain or some other plea arrangement. Absent a good chance of otherwise beating the charge, this is always the smart way to resolve things and limit damage.

Some people, though, insist on going to trial to fight their drunk driving charge, no matter how strong the evidence. According to the Michigan State Police Annual Drunk Driving Audit, here’s how that all works out:

  • In Michigan, at least 95% of the people who do refuse a plea resolution and instead to fight their charge at trial get convicted.
  • In 2022, there were about 28,000 DUI arrests in Michigan.
  • Out of ALL of them, only 15 people charged with either a 1st or 2nd offense won their case at trial.
  • That’s a “win” rate of 0.001% (meaning a losing rate of 99.999%).
  • Many of these people passed up a plea bargain for a less serious offense, only to wind up convicted of a more serious charge.

This means that if you’ve been arrested for a DUI, there is about a 99% chance that you will, in fact, go through the whole court process, including the mandatory alcohol screening.

The Risk Of Over-Diagnosis And Getting Sent To Unnecessary Counseling

man listening to another person read from a clipboard

If your only plan for resolving your DUI is to go to trial and attempt to beat the case, that leaves you rather unprepared for the assessment itself, which is almost certain to happen for all but a handful of the luckiest souls.

A huge concern about this screening is the well-known issue of overdiagnosis of alcohol problems among DWI offenders in the court system. The “better safe than sorry” approach (understandably) used by the courts only contributes to this problem.

Here are three key consequences of “overdiagnosis” in the context of a DUI case:

  1. The court “finds” an alcohol problem (remember, an alcohol use disorder is considered a mental health issue) that’s not there.
  2. The risk that a person may or will develop a drinking problem gets significantly overestimated.
  3. Any drinking problem that does exist is perceived (and then treated) as much worse than it really is.

None of these are good things, but this is how the system works and exactly what your lawyer needs to protect you from it.

Think about it: Who is going to lose any sleep if some DUI offender is forced to undergo a course of unnecessary alcohol education or counseling as part of his or her sentence?


At best, you’ll get an impatient “oh well” because having to go to court-ordered classes or counseling is seen as part of the “punishment” for picking up a drinking and driving charge in the first place. No matter what, getting stuck in classes or counseling is a hell of a lot better than being sent to jail, right?

Except that when it’s you who must pay for and attend all those classes or go through counseling, it’s not so easy to blow it off by saying, “Oh well.” This is especially true when you know you don’t have an alcohol problem.

What Happens at a DWI Assessment?

In theory, the whole point of the assessment is to determine whether a person has or is at risk of developing a drinking problem – or not. However, as noted, the courts will always take a “better safe than sorry” approach.

Essentially, that means they take the position that it’s better to order counseling or treatment that’s not needed than it is to NOT order any that IS needed.

As we’ve noted, every DUI driver is required, by law, to undergo an alcohol assessment. You can call it a screening, or a substance abuse evaluation, or whatever, but it’s all the same thing.

In a perfect world, the legally required alcohol assessment would itself be a clinically sound “test” administered by an impartial substance abuse professional. In fact, if you didn’t know otherwise, you’d assume that would just be the case, right?


Instead of having a substance abuse counselor administer the assessment in a DUI case (in Michigan, the actual legal term for what everyone calls DUI is Operating While Intoxicated, or “OWI” for short), the task is handled by the court’s probation department.

Because probation officers are NOT practicing clinicians, they cannot and do not use the best, most accurate screening instruments (“tests”) or otherwise ask the probative kinds of questions that one would expect from a real substance abuse counselor.

Instead, they rely upon less clinically sound screening quizzes that use a “scoring key” to determine what level of alcohol problem a person supposedly has or may develop.

Things You May Be Asked About

There are numerous of these “tests” in use, and they ask about everything related to drinking alcohol, as well as some things that don’t seem connected. Here are just some common areas of inquiry (FAQS) you’re likely to encounter:

  • Has a healthcare provider ever said anything about your drinking?
  • Has your drinking caused or worsened any health conditions?
  • Has your healthcare suffered because of your drinking?
  • Do you ever have alcohol withdrawal symptoms?
  • Do you have cravings?
  • Have you ever gotten into fights over your drinking or because you had been drinking?
  • Have your friends or family ever expressed concern about your drinking?
  • Has there been an increase in the amount of alcohol you need to consume to feel the same effect?
  • Have you experienced blackouts or found that you can’t remember all or part of a time when you had been drinking?
  • Has your overall alcohol consumption increased?
  • How often do you drink?
  • How many drinks do you typically have per sitting?
  • Have you ever been arrested for an alcohol-related traffic offense (obviously, when being screened as part of a DUI case, the answer is “yes”)?
  • Have you ever been to or thought about going to any support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?
  • At any point, have you ever had or considered getting alcohol treatment, either in-patient or outpatient?
  • Have you ever wondered if you engage in excessive alcohol use?
  • Have you ever gone through withdrawal or experienced withdrawal symptoms?
  • Do you have any health conditions or health problems requiring medication that should not be mixed with alcohol?

It’s Not All About Alcohol, Either

Here are some other questions that may show up as part of a DUI alcohol screening:

  • List all the drugs you have tried in your substance use history (there are usually “check boxes” accompanying this kind of question).
  • Have you ever had any issues with substance abuse beyond alcohol?
  • Were you ever diagnosed with, or even suspected of having, a substance use disorder?
  • Have you ever received any other addiction treatment?
  • Do you have any mental health disorders (this can include things like anxiety, bipolar, depression, to name a few)?
  • Have you ever had suicidal thoughts?
  • Do you think you’re an honest person?
  • Have you ever lied to anyone?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your satisfaction with your life?
  • Do you suffer from a compromised or suppressed immune system?

The Most Important Part Of The Assessment is the Sentencing Recommendation

young woman reviewing small handheld electronic device with police

Using your score on whatever screening test is given, along with whatever other information he or she feels is important, the probation officer must then make a written recommendation to the judge advising what kind of sentence you should get for your DUI. This, of course, includes counseling and/or treatment options.

Here’s the reason this is such a big deal: Just about every judge in every court follows that recommendation pretty much to the letter.

In other words, the recommendation that the probation officer comes up with after he or she gives you the alcohol assessment is really the blueprint for what is going to happen to you.

Now, if you don’t have any kind of alcohol problem and aren’t otherwise at risk of developing one, then the goal is to avoid getting stuck into classes, counseling, and/or rehab that you don’t need. Of course, to achieve that goal, we must be mindful of the court’s ever-present “better safe than sorry” approach.

Nobody, including the judge, is going to lose sleep if some DUI driver gets ordered into classes or counseling that he or she does not need instead of being sent to jail. As your DUI lawyers, my team and I are your ONLY protection from that.

However, what about someone who may need a bit of help figuring out if his or her drinking is a problem or knows it is and wants some direction to get a handle on it?

Even though most 1st time DUI offenders don’t have any kind of alcohol problem, as has been pointed out – some do. The only thing the court can do to “help” is order any such person into whatever local treatment program it typically uses.

The catch is that the court’s preferred program may NOT be the right choice for you.

This happens a lot with AA. Some people love it, many tolerate it, and most hate it. To be sure, AA is a great program, but it’s certainly NOT for everyone, and indeed, not for most people.

Real “help” means something you can afford and that is otherwise a good fit for you and your needs. My team and I are here to assist with that as much as every other part of the case.

Signs That You Are Struggling With An Alcohol Use Disorder

How do you determine if your drinking has become a problem? Perhaps the easiest way to start is by applying the old saying, “Anything that causes a problem IS a problem.”

In the real world, nobody ever questions if their drinking is an issue because it’s working out so well. It’s only when a person begins having problems that they’ll begin to wonder if their drinking plays a role in that. Sometimes, that’s because they can’t deny either engaging in heavy drinking or some kind of binge drinking behavior.

For some, things may have progressed far enough to outright alcohol dependence. These people experience things like blackouts and maybe even alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Others may be on the cusp of crossing the line from normal to problem drinking. One does not need to have an alcohol addiction to have an alcohol problem. Remember, one of the best guides to follow is the simple observation from above: Anything that causes a problem IS a problem.

Of course, this is where some people will rationalize themselves right out of giving it a second thought.

In fact, even when directly confronted by friends or loved ones about how their drinking is creating problems, some people will twist everything into a pretzel in a vain attempt to explain how their alcohol use is NOT a problem. That’s rationalizing.

Signs Of an Alcohol Problem

Here are some considerations that can help you do a kind of private self-assessment. If you answer “yes” to 2 or more, then your drinking may be problematic:

  • Sometimes, you drink more or longer than you planned to.
  • You have been unable to cut down or stop drinking on your own, even though you have tried or wanted to.
  • A lot of your time is spent drinking, being sick from drinking, or getting over the effects of drinking.
  • Your urge to drink is so strong, you cannot think about anything else.
  • As a result of drinking, you do not do what is expected of you at home, work, or school, or you keep getting sick because of drinking.
  • Even though alcohol is causing problems with your family or friends, you continue to drink.
  • You spend less time on activities that used to be important or that you enjoyed. Instead, you use that time to drink or do things that involve drinking.
  • Your drinking has led to situations in which you or someone else could have been injured, such as driving while drunk or having unsafe sex.
  • Even though drinking has caused you to be anxious, depressed, forgetful, or caused other health problems, you keep drinking.
  • You need to drink more than you did to get the same effect from alcohol.
  • The number of drinks you are used to having now has less effect than before.
  • When the effects of alcohol wear off, you have symptoms of withdrawal. These include tremors, sweating, nausea, or insomnia. You may even have had a seizure or hallucinations (sensing things that are not there).

These are a few of many diagnostic inquiries used by clinicians to help someone evaluate drinking behavior. Answering “yes” to 2 or more does NOT mean a person is showing signs of alcoholism or that he or she has developed a habit of excessive drinking and needs something extreme, like detoxification.

In fact, not all drinking problems involve excessive alcohol use. Some people don’t drink that much, but sometimes, when they do, they don’t have an “off” button.

Sometimes, having a “drinking problem” simply means that a person’s relationship with alcohol has become risky and troublesome and that it’s time to take some steps before things get worse.

What Other Tools Can Help Me Determine If I Have a Drinking Problem?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has a great web page with all kinds of resources for anyone who either wonders if they have a drinking problem or who already knows they do and wants to find help. It’s also great for the family and friends of someone struggling with his or her drinking:

Also, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a wonderful website, including a hotline, that can help with treatment referrals and information:

Here is the main site:

Here is the SAMHSA helpline and referral page:

For those who just want to consider things more on their own, here is a good, short “self-test,” called the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, and sometimes just called the “AUD”) that can be used to help someone figure out if their drinking has crossed the line from normal to problematic.

While these are wonderful resources, we can still circle back to the 2 points mentioned earlier:

  1. Anything that causes a problem IS a problem, and,
  2. Nobody wonders if his or her drinking is a problem because everything is going just fine.

The effects of alcohol aren’t the same for a high-functioning alcoholic, but no matter how much or how little a person drinks, when the problems start to mount, there is often a little voice in their heart of hearts that says, “Something isn’t right here.”

Warning signs like blackouts, short-term memory loss, high blood pressure, liver disease, mood swings, and/or the worsening of bipolar disorder symptoms can result from excessive drinking.

There are, of course, less severe warning signs, as well. These include things like just not feeling good about your drinking or otherwise suspecting that your alcohol consumption isn’t healthy or normal. These concerns should never be ignored.

If you’ve gotten to the point that you’re wondering about your drinking, don’t just blow it off or try rationalizing it away. No matter what, it’s never too early to explore your relationship with alcohol with the help of someone like a good, non-judgmental counselor.

For anyone that’s interested, we can help with this, and provide direction.

What Can You Learn From a DUI?

Everyone makes mistakes. It’s always best when we use them as learning moments. For most people, a drunk driving arrest is THE biggest mistake of their lives. One of the key things to take away from any DUI is that your judgment after drinking isn’t as good as you had thought.

Alcohol impairs a person’s ability to self-assess his or her level of intoxication. Most people who wind up facing a DUI probably thought they were “okay” to drive when they did, even though it turns out they weren’t.

The most important thing to learn from a DUI is to never do it again. In fact, just don’t drink and drive at all. Whatever one’s relationship with alcohol may or may not be, the consequences for every subsequent drunk driving conviction get progressively and significantly more severe.

No matter what your situation, if you’ve been arrested for driving drunk, it is time to at least pause for a moment and examine your drinking behavior:

  • Was this incident a true “one-off,” meaning out-of-character, because you don’t drink that much?
  • How many times (honestly) have you driven when you were likely over the legal limit?
  • Has drinking caused any other problems in your life (see above)?
  • Have you ever thought about drinking less or less often?
  • Have you ever tried to stop drinking, but then gone back?

These are little “nudges” that suggest a person would benefit from talking to someone like a non-judgmental professional counselor. A good counselor, like those we use, isn’t there to shout at someone “You have a drinking problem!”

Instead, they will help a person explore whether his or her drinking has become problematic, and then, if so, help determine if he or she is ready to do anything about it.

No matter what, it is always a waste of time and money, if not downright counter-productive, to force someone to do “counseling” when they’re not really interested. This is why being non-judgmental is so important.

Having a problem is one thing; wanting to do something about is quite another.

For all the help my team and I can provide, if a person isn’t interested, or not ready to explore these issues, then that’s that, and we will focus solely on his or her DUI case and achieving the best result possible.

Getting Help After a DUI

two people sitting at desk with notepads and computer on it

If you’re facing a DUI charge, you need the best legal help you can find. You absolutely SHOULD check around and compare lawyers. Take the time to read what different attorneys have written. Pay close attention to how they explain both the DUI process and their various approaches to it.

The best thing you can do is call around and speak with as many lawyers and law offices as you can. Of course, you must be a savvy consumer: Don’t get sucked into making any quick hiring decisions, and remember, you should be seeking the information you need to hear, not just what you want to hear.

Also, watch out for fear-based marketing tactics that try to scare you. We already know a DUI is serious. Now it’s time to talk about solutions and avoiding or minimizing consequences, not magnifying them.

Any lawyer or law firm worth considering for your case will be happy to address your concerns and answer your questions. Our firm does all its initial consultations over the phone, during regular business hours, right when you call. As a potential consumer of legal services, you should absolutely avoid anyone who is abrupt, rude, or who otherwise tries to pressure you in any way.

How We Can Help

We do everything possible to keep our DUI clients from winding up stuck in any classes or counseling they don’t need.

In addition, we also help direct any interested client to further explore his or her relationship to alcohol to get the kind of help that’s best for them. We refer most of these interested clients to one of the two counselors we use. They are exceptionally kind and nice people.

Over the years, we have received loads of “thank you” messages from clients who appreciated and were helped by these referrals.

Although I don’t pretend to be any kind of clinician, it is worth noting that our primary practice areas are DUI and driver’s license restoration cases. License appeals are for people who seek to be re-licensed after having been revoked for multiple drunk driving convictions.

Both these areas involve alcohol use (and abuse). The development, diagnosis, and treatment of as well as recovery from alcohol (and drug) problems is central to the work our firm does every single day.

Ultimately, in the early 2010s, I returned to the university classroom and completed a post-graduate program in addiction studies. By that time, I had seen these things countless times from the lawyer’s side.

However, learning the clinical side was truly eye-opening and incalculably helpful. My team and I use this specialized knowledge every day, in every case we handle, to help out clients.

We Believe In What We Do

Our firm is “pro-recovery” for anyone who wants that kind of direction. We have been the catalyst to steer people toward the right kind of help when they’ve needed and asked for it. We’ve been lucky to witness, first-hand, how some lives have been changed for the better when that happens.

When you help someone this way, the feeling you get transcends all the money you could ever earn.

That said, we are never preachy. Our help is available to anyone who asks, but we never lecture. The extra help we can provide is simply available “on request.”

We don’t have any agenda other than producing the best result possible in every DUI case we take. The goal is always to avoid as many of the legal penalties and negative consequences possible.

We are, first and foremost, genuine DUI lawyers. It is still our primary job to make sure our clients DON’T get rolled over in the court system (with its built-in bias) that treats everyone the same and applies a “one-size-fits-all” and “better safe than sorry” approach to all DUI cases.

We never forget that most DUI cases involve people who DON’T have any kind of drinking problem. That means protecting our clients from being required to enroll in, pay for, and complete any unnecessary alcohol counseling or treatment.

Why Work With Jeffrey Randa and Associates?

We are a genuine Michigan DUI law firm with over 60 years of combined experience handling drunk driving cases. When we take a case, the first thing we do is carefully examine all the evidence. We’ll develop an intelligent defense strategy and leave no stone unturned to get the case and/or any questionable evidence dismissed.

When there is no “fatal flaw” in a case such that it will be thrown out of court, then we’ll do everything necessary to protect your interests and get you through the DUI process intact.

We live by the motto that success in a DUI case is best measured by what does NOT happen to you. As noted above, that means avoiding as many of the legal penalties and negative consequences as possible.

No lawyer can do more, and we will never do less.

Here’s how some of our clients describe us:

“Just two words describe them “The Best”. They handled my case with ease. Gave me advice and the tools to get me the best case possible.” — Dereck P.

“Very professional and understanding of my situation. Helped me through a very stressful spot. Genevieve was my lawyer and I will say she really is the best.” — Devin L.

Don’t Let One Mistake Define Your Life

If you’re facing a DUI anywhere in the Greater Detroit area of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, or one of the surrounding counties, my team and I can help you put it behind you as painlessly as possible and get on with your life. Make sure you call us as you explore your options.

We are committed to keeping our clients out of jail and avoiding as many of the other legal penalties and negative consequences as possible. Our firm isn’t merely made up of lawyers who “do” DUI cases – we are genuine Michigan DUI lawyers. This is what we do all day, every day.

We take our work seriously and pour our hearts and souls into it.

We provide free consultations (always confidential) 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 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 586-465-1980, or 248-986-9700.