When and how do you make the decision to drink again after a DUI arrest and conviction?

Getting arrested for a DUI is traumatizing.  I’ve heard of some people coping with this trauma by drinking heavily in the days following their arrest; others of us were too traumatized to even think about having a drink.  Should you drink again after your first DUI?

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, everyone convicted of a DUI or even a “wet reckless” is required to enroll in the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP).  The first part of this is an intake appointment, and a meeting with your case manager where you are screened for drinking problems.  Even if you have not gone through this, you can take a version of the screening on the website of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

Many of us who have a DUI conviction don’t have drinking problems.  We made a mistake that we won’t make again. We face the consequence of our mistake and we move on, ensuring that it doesn’t happen again.

If you test negative for drinking problems, the choice is yours as to whether you drink again.  Alcohol certainly causes health problems for anyone who doesn’t moderate their intake.  However, it’s also a part of cultures as old as time, with social and health benefits.  Should you forego that glass of wine with dinner at home with your partner just because you got a DUI?

Before you answer that, think about the behavior that led to your incident.  Are there negative influences you need to cut out of your life?  Do you have emotional or behavioral issues to deal with?  Perhaps you should get these things addressed first, then think about having a drink again.  Chances are, your entire approach to drinking will change for the better.

When I looked at the behavior that led to my DUI, I realized a few things. 

One, I was too old to be hanging out at bars as much as I did.  While I was always careful not to drink above the limit when I was driving (except for the night I was arrested), I was spending too much money, and there was really no net benefit to doing it.  Bartenders generally don’t care about you beyond making money, earning a good tip (I should know, I’m a bartender).  The only consistent regulars I met were people with genuine drinking problems.  What was I getting out of it besides less money and negative influences?

Speaking of influences – number two, I realized that there were too many negative influences in my life, people who were did not care about my well-being.  Unfortunately, the service industry is full of negative influences.  Alcohol and drug abuse is rampant.  Half of the people I would meet connected to the service industry already had a DUI, and I should have learned lessons from that alone.  And true friends don’t buy friends strong drinks, knowing that they are driving.  I cut these people out of my social life.

Finally, I addressed my susceptibility to peer-pressure, and need to impress people without thinking about the utter lack of benefits to gaining such approval.  I had to decide once and for all that I own my body, my actions and I am responsible for myself.  What others think does not matter.  I realized that throughout my life, the periods of stability involved me living for someone else – when I was in serious, domestic relationships.  I could behave because I felt accountable to someone else.  When I was on my own (like now), I often failed to be accountable to myself.  I am still working on this through therapy.

I will likely have a drink again once I get through everything, both legally and personally.

I bought a portable breathalyzer device to keep around for experimental purposes, as well as future safety considerations.  Most of us never know how our bodies truly metabolize alcohol.  We tend to guess, based on our feelings of being buzzed or intoxicated.  Unfortunately, this is dangerous, because at the same time we are guessing, our inhibitions are hindered because of the alcohol.  I would recommend that everyone buy one of these devices and test their breath after a drink, then again after a second.   I let some friends play with this device (in a safe, controlled environment, where no one was driving).  You’d be surprised how quickly you can get to 0.08 with as little as one or two drinks.

(Safety note: while these devices are comparable to those used by police officers in the field, they are not perfect, nor are they legally admissible in court.  They should be used to get a general idea, not to justify driving when close to the limit, or driving after drinking in general).

I have also found that my change in behavior, and experience with the legal ramifications, changed many of those around me for the better.  When I abstain from drinking, I notice others around me cut themselves off after one or two drinks.  Everyone goes home safely, healthy and without hangovers the next day.  That’s how it should be.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate: the choice is yours.  Ensure that you do not have a drinking problem, and then address the other behaviors that led to your incident.  Then decide.  I think you’ll find yourself positively surprised at your new approach.

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