Substance Abuse Evaluations in DUI Cases

An overview of court-ordered alcohol and drug evaluations related to drunk driving cases.

One of the most serious safety hazards motorists face on our roadways is impaired drivers. Traditionally, state laws have aimed to deter would-be drunk drivers by imposing harsh penalties for driving under the influence (DUI) convictions. However, these types of punitive measures don't always work, especially with drivers who have alcoholism or drug addictions.

But most states also now use treatment programs in an effort to remedy drivers' underlying substance abuse conditions. In many states, an impaired driving conviction requires the offender to complete an alcohol and drug evaluation, the results of which can be used by the judge to decide whether treatment is appropriate.

This article explains how substance abuse evaluations are used in DUI cases.

What's the Purpose of Substance Abuse Evaluations?

The purpose of substance abuse evaluations is to determine whether the offender has any chemical dependency issues and the best treatment or educational programs for the offender.

How Do Substance Abuse Evaluations Work?

Evaluation process. Basically, an alcohol and drug evaluation (or substance abuse evaluation) is an interview-type process. The evaluation is generally conducted by a licensed therapist or counselor with chemical dependency training and experience. A portion of the evaluation might involve the person filling out a questionnaire related to alcohol and drug use history. And the evaluator will generally ask some follow-up questions based on the person's answers.

Oftentimes, the evaluator will also want to know about family history of alcohol or drug use, prescription medications, mental health issues, and other factors that could impact alcohol and drug usage and treatment.

In many cases, drug and alcohol testing is another component of the evaluation. Depending on the situation, the person being evaluated might have to provide a urine sample or blow into a breathalyzer.

Evaluation results and recommendations. Based on the information gathered in the evaluation process, the evaluator will determine the nature and level of any substance abuse or addiction issues the client might have. Even if a client doesn't have any serious substance abuse issues, the counselor will likely still recommend some educational courses related to alcohol and drug use. For others, the counselor will craft a treatment program that best fits the offender's needs. A treatment plan might include components such as:

  • Inpatient treatment. Inpatient programs require the offender to stay at a treatment facility for a period of time. Generally, inpatient programs provide more intense and comprehensive treatment and supervision than other types of programs.
  • Outpatient treatment. With outpatient treatment programs, the client doesn't sleep at the facility. However, these programs can still involve intensive treatment where the client is at the facility all day long. In other cases, a more moderate level of treatment could be appropriate, and the client might attend the program for just a few hours each week.
  • Group therapy. It's fairly common for substance abuse counselors to recommend participation in addiction groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
  • Testing. To ensure continued sobriety, a substance abuse evaluator might recommend the offender submit to random drug or alcohol testing.

Substance abuse evaluators generally submit their recommendations to the court or relevant agency and provide the client with a certificate of completion.

How Do Judges Use Substance Abuse Evaluation Results?

Most commonly, alcohol and drug evaluation are required in cases involving DUI charges or other offenses involving alcohol or drugs. In these cases, the judge can consider the evaluation results in determining how to sentence the offender. Generally, judges can include treatment or educational programs as part of a defendant's sentence.

Substance abuse evaluations are also used in conjunction with alternative sentencing programs. Most states have some form of alternative DUI sentencing, especially for first offense DUIs. Participants in these programs typically must complete an evaluation prior to beginning the program.

Where Can You Get a Substance Abuse Evaluation?

Most states have counselors within a state agency that provide drug and alcohol evaluations. Some states do allow private programs to conduct the evaluation but the program generally must be state-approved. Typically, the court or state agency in charge of these evaluations will have a list of approved providers.

How Much Do Substance Abuse Evaluations Cost?

The evaluation itself generally costs around $100 as it only takes an hour or two. However, additional costs may be required depending on the recommended treatment program. Most states have special funds for indigent offenders that lack funds for treatment.

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