Alcohol use disorder is a serious disease with life-altering consequences. It can destroy your health and relationships, and it can even take away your freedom in some cases. People who abuse alcohol can be masters at hiding their behavior. Sadly, it’s often not until an alcoholic faces some legal consequences that they or others realize a problem.
Those in the grips of alcohol dependence sometimes lose their ability to make good choices. This can lead to driving under the influence, neglecting their children, stealing, fighting, and other issues that might lead to jail time.
Of course, not everyone who makes a bad decision while drinking is an alcoholic. But it often takes an extreme experience like being arrested for individuals with substance abuse issues to address their alcohol problem. In some cases, they may be forced into rehab as an alternative to spending time in jail.
Are the Consequences of Alcohol Abuse Fair to an Addict?
Because alcoholism is classified as a mental health disorder, some people feel it is unfair to punish an alcoholic for violations they committed while suffering from an illness. However, having a physical or mental illness does not excuse anyone for breaking the law. A person with cancer would still be held responsible for robbing a bank even if they needed money to pay for their treatment.
In recent years, the legal system has made an effort to understand addiction and offer help instead of punishment when appropriate. The nature of a person’s crime and criminal history greatly influence the amount of mercy a judge may show.
Committing a minor crime may result in court-ordered alcohol treatment instead of incarceration.
The first drug treatment court or “drug court” began hearing cases in Miami-Dade County in 1989. It was created on the belief that prioritizing treatment over punishment was appropriate in some cases. Today there are more than 3,000 drug treatment courts across the U.S. where resources are used to help reduce addiction and lower drug- and alcohol-related crimes in the area. Mandated therapy is one of the deterrents used by the legal system.
Instead of sentencing a person to jail or meting out other penalties, a judge may require the individual to attend an addiction therapy program. The court decides the type, length, and location of the therapy. It may be a residential treatment facility or an outpatient clinic. Leaving mandated treatment without approval typically results in a jail sentence.
Does Mandated Therapy Work?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NDA), there is a misconception that people with addiction problems must enter into recovery voluntarily to change their lives, but that is not true. According to studies, the NDA reports that people who are legally pressured into entering treatment tend to have higher attendance rates and stay in their program longer than people who are not facing legal consequences. This improvement in attendance has a positive impact on the long-term success of recovery.
Other ways mandated addiction therapy helps include:
● Remove the stigma of going to prison both for the alcoholic and their family members
● Reduce the crime rate
● Make reintegrating into family relationships easier
● Decrease the difficulty of finding employment or housing
If you are facing legal ramifications related to alcohol dependency, mandated therapy offers a second chance. Not only is it a chance to avoid jail time, but it is also an opportunity to break the cycle of addiction and get your life back.
The Link Between Alcohol Abuse and Criminal Behavior
The nature of alcohol lends itself to certain types of behavior. That doesn’t mean everyone who drinks commits crimes, but there are well-documented links between alcohol and aggression.
Three specific factors can help us understand why alcohol consumption leads to legal ramifications for some people.
1. Personality Type
Whether it’s a reaction to unhealed trauma, upbringing, mental health issues, or genetics, some people are more prone to reacting with anger. Alcohol decreases our ability to think critically and control our behavior. When an individual is already impulsive and quick to anger, mixing alcohol into the equation increases the likelihood of aggressiveness. Unchecked aggression is a precursor to all types of violence, including domestic violence and physical fights.
2. Misinterpretation of Social Cues
Though they can be, not all criminal acts are intentionally malicious. Being under the influence of alcohol disrupts our ability to interpret the words or actions of others accurately. Misread social cues may lead to violent confrontations, but they can also cause genuine misunderstandings that result in breaking the law. For example, an intoxicated person could genuinely interpret the gesture of placing your keys on a table as an invitation to take your car for a spin if their ability to reason is impaired.
The part of the brain most affected by alcohol abuse is the prefrontal cortex. This area is responsible for cognitive behavior, decision making, moderating social behavior, and personality expression. If it becomes damaged due to heavy drinking, the result can be a loss of rational thinking and angry outbursts. Alcohol also depletes serotonin levels, one of the main chemicals that help us regulate our moods.
Understanding how long-term alcohol abuse affects a person’s ability to make good decisions can increase our awareness of how crucial it is to seek help as soon as you realize there’s a problem. Getting treatment for alcohol use disorder could help you avoid the legal consequences of alcoholism in the future.
Common Alcohol-Related Crimes
Crimes that are frequently related to intoxication include:
About 15% of robberies are linked to alcohol use. The decision to steal may come from a desperate need for money or be a spur-of-the-moment impulse.
Any forced sexual activity, including kissing and touching, is considered a sexual assault. It is estimated that 37% of all sexual assaults, including rapes, are committed by individuals under the influence of alcohol.
Aggravated assault is defined as an assault that causes serious injury. If any type of weapon is used during the assault, the criminal charges can be severe. Around 27% of aggravated assaults are alcohol-related.
Intimate Partner Violence
In approximately two-thirds of reported domestic or intimate partner violence cases, the victim reports that their partner had been drinking before the assault.
Research shows a strong link between alcoholism and the abuse or neglect of children. This is one of the ways alcohol abuse impacts families. Roughly 40% of abusers admit to using alcohol at the time of the offense.
More homicides in the US involve alcohol use than any other substance, including heroin or cocaine. Around 40% of convicted murderers admit to being under the influence of alcohol at the time of their crime.
Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
Drinking and driving is one of the most dangerous consequences of alcoholism or alcohol abuse. Approximately 10,000 people are killed in the U.S. each year by drunk driving. Thousands more are injured, sometimes seriously.
The legal consequences of alcoholism can be severe. Depending on your crime, you could end up incarcerated for the rest of your life. Some of the most frequently committed crimes related to alcohol use are extremely violent offenses that likely result in lengthy prison sentences. It is estimated that every year 1.4 million acts of alcohol-related violence are perpetrated against strangers.
The Legal Consequences of Alcoholism
In addition to possible incarceration or mandated rehab, the legal consequences of alcoholism may include any of the following:
● Loss of employment
● Loss of parental rights
● Revoked driver’s license
● Loss of public housing benefits
● Inability to own a firearm
● Loss of professional licensing
● Inability to get a passport
● Loss of voting rights
● Court-appointed community service hours
Whether it’s something minor like disregarding driving laws or something serious like assault, letting alcohol impair your ability to make good decisions can affect every aspect of your life—not to mention the lives of others you may harm along the way.
The personal consequences of alcohol abuse can be devastating. The thought of losing your home and family, professional standing, income, health, and integrity is enough to motivate many people with alcohol use disorder to seek help. But it is also important to fully understand how the legal consequences of alcoholism can impact your life.
Through recovery, you may be able to restore your family and regain respect. However, some legal consequences last forever. Losing the right to vote or having a professional license revoked will remain even if you are successful in recovery.
Avoiding the Consequences of Alcohol Abuse
The best way to avoid legal trouble is to seek treatment for your alcoholism before committing a crime. If alcohol use is causing problems in your life, get help. If your mental or physical health is suffering, you have strong cravings for alcohol, or your alcohol use has negatively impacted those around you, these are all signs of an alcohol use disorder.
It may be hard to face your problem and even harder to face a life without alcohol. But the legal consequences of alcoholism could be the worst thing you ever face.