Efforts to clamp down on drunk driving in Colorado and around the country usually involve more rigorous policing and harsher penalties for offenders. Most drivers convicted of DUI are required to attend substance abuse counseling sessions, but they rarely undergo mental health evaluations. Studies suggest that this approach is missing an opportunity to identify the underlying causes of alcohol and substance abuse and prevent drunk driving recidivism.
Most repeat drunk drivers have mental health issues
At least two studies have found a strong link between repeat DUI offenses and mental health conditions like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. When the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation studied the cases of drivers with two or more drunk driving convictions, they found that 60% of them suffered from a mental health disorder. When researchers from Harvard Medical School conducted similar research, they discovered that 40 out of 100 repeat drunk drivers suffered from a serious mental health illness.
Treatment not punishment
Alcohol and drug abuse have long been linked with mental health issues, but this connection is rarely made in drunk driving cases. Instead, DUI offenders are punished and stripped of their driving privileges, which usually makes things worse for offenders and society as a whole. When the underlying causes of substance abuse are not diagnosed and treated, problems tend to get more serious. This leads to more drunk driving and more drunk driving accidents.
A better way
Drunk drivers are treated harshly because society wants to deter people from getting behind the wheel after imbibing, but research reveals that harsh treatment may be doing more harm than good. If substance abuse and drunk driving are often both symptoms of an underlying mental health disorder, diagnosing and treating that disorder may benefit society more than fines, jail sentences and driver’s license suspensions.