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Driving Under The Influence Of Alcohol (DUI/DWI) – Dangers, Treatment, More

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Each day in America, nearly 29 people lose their lives to an alcohol-impaired vehicle crash. In 2016, this equated to one person every 50 minutes.

In a single year alone, it’s estimated that these deaths and the damage caused by them totaled 44 billion dollars. Aside from the monetary cost, the toll on a person’s life, and that of their loved ones, can be immense.

Driving under the influence of alcohol places an individual and those around them, including passengers, pedestrians and other individuals on the road, at risk of injury and death.

Fortunately, alcoholic addiction treatment can help people who are struggling with alcohol use or addiction to regain a sober and safer life. For some, this may include enrolling in a court-ordered treatment program.

The Dangers Of Driving Under The Influence

Once a person’s blood alcohol concentration reaches .08 g/dL, the risk of a crash surges. With this in mind, each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have made it illegal to operate a vehicle with a BAC of .08 or more. In addition to this, any amount of alcohol in a driver’s blood at ages under 21 is considered illegal.

Despite this, crashes can and do happen at lower blood alcohol concentrations. In 2016, drivers with a BAC of .07 and below were responsible for 2,017 fatalities caused by alcohol-related crashes.

Just a small amount of alcohol can alter the way a person processes and reacts to what’s going on around them. It can also alter their ability to think clearly. These changes can begin to impair a person’s ability to drive their vehicle shortly after alcohol is consumed.


Even within the legal limit, a person’s mental and physical states begin to change from alcohol’s effects. As a person’s blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) climb, the detriment and danger of being behind the wheel while drinking skyrockets.

The following chart shows how a person’s ability to drive becomes increasingly compromised as their BAC rises, as outlined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

Blood Alcohol Concentration – 0.02

Physical And Mental Effects

  • A person feels relaxed, their body warms up and their mood is altered.
  • The ability to make sound judgments is somewhat compromised at this time.

Impact on Ability To Drive

  • A person’s visual functions, specifically their ability to quickly track a moving target, goes down.
  • It also becomes harder for a person to perform two tasks at once.

Blood Alcohol Concentration – 0.05

Physical And Mental Effects

  • A person begins to feel good and their behavior starts to become exaggerated.
  • Small-muscle control and judgement become impaired.
  • A person becomes less alert and their inhibitions are decreased.

Impact on Ability To Drive

  • It becomes harder to track a moving object, steering becomes challenging and a person’s coordination becomes impaired.
  • A person can’t respond to emergency driving situations as effectively.

Blood Alcohol Concentration- 0.08

Physical And Mental Effects

  • As a person’s muscle coordination declines, their balance, hearing, reaction time, speech and vision are compromised.
  • A person’s judgement, memory, reasoning and self-control suffer impairment.
  • It also becomes harder for a person to identify dangerous situations.

Impact on Ability To Drive

  • As a person’s short-term memory suffers, it also becomes harder for them to concentrate and their perception is impaired.
  • Controlling speed, and processing information important to driving (such as signal detection and performing visual searches) suffers.

Blood Alcohol Concentration- 0.10

Physical And Mental Effects

  • A person’s reaction time and control begin to plummet.
  • At this time, their speech becomes slurred, their thinking is much slower and their coordination is extremely impacted.

Impact on Ability To Drive

  • Here, it is difficult for a person to stay in their lane and brake when the situation requires it.

Blood Alcohol Concentration – 0.15

Physical And Mental Effects

  • A person really struggles to control their muscles, their balance is upset and they may vomit.

Impact on Ability To Drive

  • A person’s ability to control their vehicle, pay attention to driving, and process visual and audio cues is extremely impaired.

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Driving Under The Influence: Alcohol-Related Traffic Fatalities

If a person chooses to drive under the influence they could be putting their life, and those near to them, in the hands of alcohol’s effects. Each year, the decision to drive under the influence results in thousands of deaths and countless lives changed. The statistics speak for themselves: nearly one out of three traffic crash deaths involve a drunk driver.

In 2016 alone, drunk-driving deaths rose by 1.7 percent, totaling 10,497 lives lost, as reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Further, in 2016:

  • the greatest number of drivers with a BAC of 08 g/dL or higher in deadly car crashes were 25 to 34 year olds, equaling 27 percent of drivers.
  • in drivers who were involved in deadly car crashes, rates of alcohol impairment were over three times higher at night than during the day.
  • the number of drivers involved in deadly car crashes who were alcohol-impaired was nearly double on weekends than what is was during the week, at 26 and 14 percent respectively.
  • 17 percent of children aged 14 and younger who died in traffic crashes lost their live because of an alcohol-impaired-driving crash.


While anyone who drinks could potentially be at risk for driving drunk, research has found that men have higher rates of drunk driving in fatal car crashes than do women.

What Happens When A Person Gets A DUI Or DWI?

Once a person is pulled over, and their blood alcohol concentration is analyzed, the officer will determine if they will remain in custody. Arrested individuals with a BAC of .08 or higher are typically held in jail. The terminology for drunk driving may vary per state, but some of the most common include:

  • DUI: driving under the influence
  • DWI: driving while intoxicated
  • OWI: operating while intoxicated

Once released, the person will likely receive a court date where they will then be sentenced. Sentencing requirements for a DUI or DWI vary on a state-by-state basis, however, minimal penalties often require fines and a revoked license.

As part of sentencing for a DUI or DWI, a person may be required to enroll in a court-ordered alcohol addiction treatment program. Mandated treatment means that a person must enroll in treatment as part of their sentencing requirements. If they don’t, they could face legal repercussions.

In order to determine the scope and necessity of court-ordered treatment, a person is evaluated to determine if there:

  • is a risk for impaired driving in the future.
  • is a risk of crash involvement in the future.
  • are any issues or circumstances that intervention and treatment should focus on.

Evaluating a person’s risk for continued alcohol use and their need for treatment generally takes place in two parts. First, just before or after a referral for treatment is made, a person will likely be screened so that the courts can determine what treatment should be required.

Once a person is about to enter treatment, or just after they arrive, a more in-depth evaluation, or assessment occurs. This clinical assessment determines how severe a person’s drinking problem is, what treatments could be used to treat it and how long treatment should be.

Court-Ordered Rehab: Treatment For A DUI Or DWI

The specifics of court-mandated treatment may differ per person and be dependent on the exact circumstances surrounding their arrest. First-time offenders may have a lighter sentence compared to repeat offenders who have had a previous DUI or DWI. While it isn’t necessary to hire a lawyer, legal representation could help a person during the sentencing process.

Every DUI offender comes from a different walk of life, potentially experiencing varying levels of alcohol use. Sentencing and treatment referral may take into account other factors that could influence the odds of a person experiencing an alcohol-related traffic problem in the future. An example could include a comorbid condition, such as a co-occurring mental health disorder.


From this, the court will determine the duration, frequency and intensity of treatment required for each offender. Treatment may be brief and encompass only one or two sessions, take place in an outpatient program and last several weeks or months or include inpatient treatment followed by aftercare.

Treatment is often held in a basic alcohol addiction treatment program located in a person’s community, however, options out of town may be available. Additional court-ordered interventions could include:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • educational programs
  • supervised probation
  • victim impact panels

While it can be vastly beneficial for a person to choose getting help on their own, research has shown that involuntary treatment, such as court-ordered rehab, can be effective. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this treatment could increase:

  • treatment entry
  • retention rates
  • a person’s measure of recovery success

Once a sentence is issued and treatment is required, many people may be quick to enter treatment just to get it over with. Though this is understandable, looking at treatment as an opportunity to regain a healthier and more balanced life, in addition to learning sober living skills, can help a person get more out of their program.

Because of this, and if the court permits, it can be helpful to research treatment options, prior to selecting a treatment program.

Finding Treatment For A DUI Or DWI

While it could be tempting to enroll in rehab only for the minimum amount of treatment required, or in a program offered nearby, better options could exist.

Court-ordered treatment can be an excellent opportunity for a person to pursue treatment for longer or in a more specialized setting. If it fulfills the sentencing requirements, choosing an out-of-town addiction treatment program could give a person a better chance of successfully recovering from an alcohol use disorder.

Traveling to treatment offers a person better privacy. It also removes a person from familiar triggers for alcohol use that may exist near their home or in their community.

Questions About Treatment?

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The best treatment programs offer in-depth, individualized treatments that addresses the many ways addiction causes destruction within a person’s life. For a person who has experienced a DUI or DWI, this could include social or legal services.

In addition to this, comprehensive treatment should help a person to overcome any behavioral or emotional damage caused by addiction. For some, this may include dual diagnosis treatment for a mental health disorder, like depression or anxiety. Treatment may also address the toll a person’s drinking has taken on their relationships, career or schooling.

Behavioral therapies and counseling can help a person to regain better functioning within their home, family and community. These individual, group or family sessions will also teach a person dynamic coping skills that enhance sober living and a responsible, alcohol-free life.

Contact Vertava Health for more info on the dangers of alcohol use and addiction.