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Addiction and Drunk Driving

“If you drink, don’t drive. Don’t even putt.” Would that more people would heed these cheeky, wise words from Dean Martin! However, drunk driving remains a hugely dangerous problem in this country.

According to CDC statistics, impaired driving takes the lives of 28 people in the United States every single day, which translates over 10,000 preventable deaths per year.

Moreover, CDC statistics also show that a higher percentage of deaths are associated with addictive drinking:

“Drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher involved in fatal crashes were 4.5 times more likely to have a prior conviction for DWI than were drivers with no alcohol in their system.”

Although awareness campaigns have helped to bring the issue into the forefront of public consciousness, they haven’t solved the bigger problem.

National Impaired Driving Prevention Month is coming up in December, so this is the time to talk about drunk driving: what it is, why it’s deadly, and what you can do to help prevent it.

What is Drunk Driving?

Drunk driving is defined by the United States Department of Transportation as driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 of higher. This is illegal in all 50 states.

The impact of a single alcoholic drink varies depending on your gender and weight. As such, it may be surprisingly easy to reach this illegal blood alcohol level without knowing it.

For example, a woman who weighs 120 pounds or less will exceed the legal limit with two drinks, whereas a man who weighs 160 pounds may have three or more drinks before reaching the legal limit.

Business Insider’s Drinks Before Driving article contains helpful charts and infographics to show how much alcohol is too much.

However, it’s always best to play it safe: if you’re drinking, do not drive, period. Plan to take a cab, use public transit, or catch a ride with a sober driver.

The Stigma Surrounding Drunk Driving

We’ve welcomed myriad participants with multiple Driving Under the Influence offenses (DUIs) to our non 12 Step dual diagnosis residential addiction treatment program. Approximately a third of our participants who abuse alcohol have received a DUI at some point.

Yet in truth, a very, very high percentage of people with an addiction to alcohol have driven drunk; the people with DUIs are just the ones who were caught! (That’s why we call them CDUIs: Caught Driving Under the Influence.)

Do these people know the consequences of drunk driving? You bet. They deal with major negative consequences – from costly fines to felony offenses – but still they struggle.

Plus, many people feel a lot of shame about their DUIs. They feel terrible that their behavior under the influence put other people’s lives at risk.

Yet most of them have already been through several sobriety programs before they come to us, and they are just barely able to believe that they might recover.

Shame is Not a Good Motivator

What does that tell us about shame as a motivator? It tells us that shame is not a good motivating force.

These people have plenty of shame, but it isn’t helping them stay clean. On the contrary, shame actually fuels more drug use.

As addiction expert Maia Szalavitz noted in her interview Tough Love and Addiction: Why It Doesn’t Work:

“We’ve been using punishment to try to treat a condition [addiction] that is defined by its resistance to punishment …. Treatment that is punitive, shaming, and humiliating is not good for addiction. If you’re willing to persist despite negative consequences to get your drugs and you lose your house and your car and your friends and everything else like that, why is another punishment going to help? It is not.”

In other words, punitive, shaming attitudes and techniques aren’t effective because the nature of addiction itself is to persist regardless of negative consequences!

What Does Work to Help You Heal

If shame and “tough love” don’t work to treat addiction, then what does? Treating the underlying core issues that lead people to start using in the first place.

Most rehabs don’t do this, which is one reason why alcohol rehab success rates are so low.

Most people don’t need another lecture on the dangers of drunk driving. Rather, they need help treating the anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns that prompt them to drink.

What’s the best way to do that? Find a therapist or treatment program that provides true dual diagnosis treatment. This means a significant amount of individualized counseling hours, utilizing evidence-based techniques to heal the mental and emotional issues that precede drug abuse.

Trauma and addiction go hand-in-hand. When you address the unhealed trauma and emotional pain that fuels alcohol or substance abuse, you’ll be empowered to stop driving – and living – under the influence.


Addiction and Drunk Driving

Joe Koelzer

Joe Koelzer is a co-founder and CEO of The Clearing. He has years of counseling experience and a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

After observing how depression and substance abuse impacted his wife Betsy’s life, Joe realized how broken our current system is for addiction and related mental health treatment.

He witnessed firsthand how an evidence-based approach coupled with Spiritual Psychology saved Betsy and enabled her to gain control of her life.

In co-founding The Clearing, Joe realized his dream of creating and sharing this innovative approach with others in a structured clinical setting.

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APA Reference
, . (2017). Addiction and Drunk Driving. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Nov 2017
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