Assessing Mental State in DUI Offenders May Reduce Repeat Offenses

With the known risks in place for driving under the influence, it can be hard to understand why individuals continue to make the choice to get behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated. According to a new study, this reason may have more to do with mental health than bad choices.

Sponsored by the PIRE Behavioral Health Research Center of the Southwest in Albuquerque, New Mexico and the Multnomah County Circuit Court in Portland, Oregon, this study shows that more than half of DUI offenders also suffer from at least one mental illness in addition to a drug or alcohol problem.

Results from this study show that nearly 60 percent of those with two or more DUI convictions reported experiencing major depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or post traumatic stress disorder over their lifetime.

Sandra Lapham, M.D., M.P.H., the principal investigator of the study, examined individuals who were convicted of at least two DUI offenses in the past 10 years. Within the study group, 40 percent had three or more DUI arrests. The majority of the individuals in the study reported having at least one psychiatric disorder. While instances occurred in both women and men, women had higher rates of depression and were more likely to suffer PTSD.

Lapham, director of the PIRE Behavioral Health Research Center of the Southwest, argues that the results of this study demonstrates the importance of screening repeat offenders for multiple disorders. She claims the offender should be viewed as a unique person with a unique set of issues. If psychiatric problems exist, these problems need to be treated along with drug and alcohol issues. Lapham supports psychiatric screenings and assessments by the courts.

Individuals participating in this study were part of a three-year program, Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants Intensive Supervision Program (DISP). The program was developed by the Multnomah County Circuit Court. Participants in the program barter for reduced jail time by agreeing to intensive probation, close monitoring and built-in punishments and rewards.

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Eric J. Bloch believes the findings from this study are enough to encourage the courts to develop a more comprehensive approach to dealing with repeat drunk drivers that are difficult to treat. If the courts understand there are other problems at play in the situation, a different approach might be able to produce more positive results. By including mental health assessments, the DUI offender may be able to enter a program that can reduce the chance of offending again.