A compilation of legal issues surrounding alcoholism
When a person considers the effects of alcohol abuse, it’s often the effects on the individual’s physical health that first come to mind. For instance, the continuous abuse of alcohol can irreparably damage the brain, liver, kidneys, and heart, causing conditions that can significantly shorten life expectancy or cause stroke, heart attacks, cirrhosis of the liver, and numerous different types of cancer. Beyond the physical health effects, becoming an alcohol affects virtually everyone in a person’s life, damaging or possibly destroying relationships, and putting the well-being of entire families in jeopardy. However, the consequences of alcohol abuse are far greater than the effects seen at the individual and familial levels.
The main purpose of alcohol abuse is to achieve a state of intoxication, and people seek intoxication for a number of reasons. For instance, a number of people become intoxicated from alcohol, or “drunk”, as a way to have fun and be more social in group settings. Often colloquially referred to as a “social lubricant”, the effect of alcohol on the brain diminishes cognitive functioning while lowering inhibitions, causing people who have become intoxicated to behave recklessly and sometimes even dangerously. As a result, these behaviors, more often than not, get them into trouble with law enforcement and the criminal justice system, resulting in legal troubles with lasting implications.
In fact, recent estimates indicate that no less than 80 percent of all crimes are committed by people who are under the influence of some mind-altering intoxicant, whether alcohol or drugs. But specifically, some of the most common legal troubles in which alcoholics and alcohol abusers frequently find themselves include drinking and driving, public intoxication, reckless endangerment, and alcohol-related homicide including many others.
Alcohol abuse has been at the root of many different types of crime. Due to associations between alcohol and aggression, there are some crimes that involve harm caused to others such as with assault and battery or alcohol-related homicide. There are also many legal situations that involve a person being intoxicated and inadvertently causing harm to others, which is the case with car accidents caused by drinking and driving or with reckless endangerment and negligence. However, even public intoxication isn’t always a victimless crime, especially when a person’s intoxication is disrupting those around him or her.
Think about a person’s behavior when he’s drunk. People who have become intoxicated from alcohol are much less inhibited than they would otherwise be, which causes them to say and do things that they’d normally be very unlikely to say or do. Additionally, their speech is slurred and almost unintelligible, they become extremely physical — excessively touching the people around them — with very little consideration of others or the consequences. The word “belligerent” is often used to describe people who are drunk because of their being almost confrontational and antagonizing. When you consider that people who are intoxicated from alcohol are also prone to unpredictable and unprovoked shifts in mood, it easy to see the many ways in which this could go wrong.
When a person who is intoxicated and making a scene in public, he is considered to be exhibiting disorderly conduct and, due to being intoxicated in public, subject to legal ramifications. The rates at which those who consistently abuse alcohol are intoxicated and disorderly in public have increased by a pretty significant margin over the course of the past decade. Yet there are indications that law enforcement isn’t necessarily quick to charge people with public intoxication and disorderly conduct unless they’re incapable of caring for themselves, are a danger to themselves or others, or are otherwise disturbing other those around them.
According to federal and state laws, public intoxication is defined as an offense that involves a person is visibly intoxicated from alcohol or drugs while in a public place and in view of others. The offense of public intoxication is often accompanied by a second offense of disturbing the peace.
Drinking & Driving
According to recent statistics, there are between 28 and 36 people killed in alcohol-related car accidents in the US every day, which breaks down to about one death every minutes. It’s unfortunate, but driving under the influence of alcohol has become quite common. And that’s why it’s such a common legal trouble that alcohol addicts face today. In fact, approximately four million American adults admit to having drove a vehicle while intoxicated at least once; however, many of those people will have committed the offense on multiple occasions and that number is believed to be exponentially higher since it’s likely there are many people who aren’t admitting to having ever driven under the influence of alcohol. Based on the number who admit to previously driving under the influence, it’s estimated that there are a minimum of 121 million instances of drunk driving each year, but when you consider that there was only 1.1 million drivers arrested for DUI in the year 2014, less than one percent of all drunk driving incidents result in a conviction.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of driving under the influence is that it not only puts the alcohol abusers’ lives in danger, but it also endangers the lives of all other people on the road. Roughly 10,000 people die from alcohol-related car accidents in the US each year—but hundreds of thousands more are injured—which is one-third of the total number of car accidents involving one or more fatality. Therefore, law enforcement has continued to be more strict with offenders, hoping to minimize and eventually even eliminate drunk drivers and keep the remaining drivers and their passengers safe. If caught and convicted of driving under the influence (first offense), the consequences a person faces usually includes being fined thousands of dollars, probation, having an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle, and completion of substance abuse classes. If the individual doesn’t comply, the consequences include revocation of license and possible jail time. When prior offenses are involved, penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol escalate, becoming much more severe.
Assault and Battery
Although there are many crimes for which a person could potentially receive some legal trouble or penalty, the ones that are the most severe—and which tend to have the most serious repercussions—are those that involve the endangerment of others. When a person is intoxicated from alcohol and acting in a belligerent manner, he may be disturbing others, but there is also the risk that the intoxicated person may harm those around. In addition to wanting to prevent those who are extremely intoxicated from harming themselves, the purpose of public intoxication and disorderly conduct charges is to prevent these individuals from actually crossing that line and bringing themselves and others some harm.
A well-known characteristic of alcohol that it has rather unpredictable effects on each substance abuser’s state of mind. Some people respond to alcohol mostly as a depressant, but since that’s what alcohol actually is, such a response is appropriate. However, others are prone to bouts of anger and aggression while under the influence of alcohol. These individuals might incite physical confrontations with others by verbally assaulting them or committing battery by physically attacking them. In fact, alcohol is more frequently associated with crimes—particularly those that are violent in nature—than any other mind-altering substance. It’s estimated that there are three million violent attacks committed by offenders under the influence of alcohol each year in the U.S., making assault and battery one of the most common offenses committed by individuals who suffer from alcohol dependency or addiction.
One of the first and most prominent effects that alcohol has on the brain is causing depressed activity in the frontal lobe, which controls judgement. This lack of judgemental skills can cause a user to make poor decisions and easily forget important facts and obligations. Usually, these obligations only affect the user, but when they end in the neglect of a child, dire consequences ensue.
Alcoholism doesn’t just result in neglecting or abandoning a child. It also extends to forgetting to or being incapable of paying bills, taking the child to doctor’s appointments, or having less than enough food available. When the majority of the household income is dedicated to acquiring more alcohol, other obligations can easily fall to the wayside.
While many other legal and criminal situations tend to generally be clear conceptually, reckless endangerment is more complicated since it can involve a variety of circumstances; however, the basis of reckless endangerment by an alcoholic would be that a person under the influence of alcohol is putting others in danger by more indirect means.
Generally, forms of outpatient care are only recommended when a person is unable to enroll in inpatient care for one reason or another and, therefore, would be unable to receive treatment were it not for outpatient programs. On the other hand, outpatient programs have traditionally been seen as a sacrifice in treatment quality and efficacy, which is why they’re typically only recommended in certain circumstances. However, in much the same way as an intensive outpatient program represents an enhancement and improvement in the quality of outpatient care, partial hospitalization treatment could be considered an enhancement of an intensive outpatient program.
Partial hospitalization programs—also commonly referred to as day treatment or partial day treatment programs—were intended to offered the best of both outpatient and inpatient treatment. Essentially, partial hospitalization treatment is an inpatient-like curriculum offered in an outpatient-like format. This makes them ideal for those who have stable, safe, and alcohol-free home environments, but who may have a greater need for medical care and supervision than would be available in outpatient and intensive outpatient programs.
In addition to a greater level of structure and supervision, partial hospitalization programs allow for the greatest amount of curriculum personalization of any outpatient program since they offer much more treatment time and a better selection of treatments. Taking place five or more days per week for about six hours each day, partial hospitalization programs represent a pretty significant time commitment.