Chemical Dependency Evaluation Strategy
January 23, 2011 2:24 PM   Subscribe

What strategy should I adopt for a chemical dependency evaluation, in order to reduce the chance of being labelled "alcoholic?"

So I was arrested for a DUI a few months ago. I have a plea hearing next week. My defense attorney advised me to go in for a "chemical dependency evaluation" with a counselor prior to this hearing. My evaluation is scheduled for Thursday.

The results of this evaluation could affect my sentencing.

I studied alcohol and drug addiction in two semesters of college, so I'm somewhat familiar with the field. I do not believe in the disease model of alcoholism, nor in the 12-step process. I am concerned that this belief will be interpreted by the counselor as "denial."

Are there particular things I should say, or avoid saying? I want to not be diagnosed as alcoholic.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
For those of us not familiar with the system, why would a DUI on its own lead directly to a diagnosis of alcoholism?
posted by tel3path at 2:26 PM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

But ARE you an alcoholic? I know that isn't really your question but I don't think looking for ways to lie or skew the results of the evaluation to reduce your sentencing is a great idea.I think it is fascinating that you don't say either way. Because if you are and you're honest during the evaluation then being diagnosed as one would be accurate. And (maybe I'm being naive) but if you aren't and you are honest there as well you should not be diagnosed as one... right?
posted by gwenlister at 2:29 PM on January 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you haven't already, quit drinking. Then, you can honestly tell the counselor that you have stopped drinking entirely. If you feel that you can't or shouldn't have to quit drinking despite having gotten in trouble with the law because of it, that's a pretty big warning sign that, however you want to label it, you have a problem with alcohol.
posted by decathecting at 2:33 PM on January 23, 2011 [22 favorites]

I think it would help if we knew why your attorney advised you to do this.

If you already are an alcoholic, whatever you've already said to your attorney may have tipped him off as to your alcoholism. He may think your sentence could be more appropriate if the court was aware of this as well.

Your best bet is to be honest here. You're already caught.
posted by griphus at 2:34 PM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

The logic as I understand it is:
1. The danger of driving while intoxicated is well documented, well publicized, and significant.
2. A reasonable person will not place drinking over their own lives in the event that they must drive while intoxicated in order to drink.
A person who is driving while intoxicated is not a reasonable person in normal circumstances.

Some possibilities are that they don't care that they are a danger to themselves and others, they don't believe that their actions are as dangerous as they are, or they are so addicted to alcohol that they think the danger is acceptable so long as they can get their fix.
The first two people should have their licenses removed or be put in jail, the third should be treated for their alcoholism.
posted by EtzHadaat at 2:38 PM on January 23, 2011

First offender? That makes a big difference. Not to burst your bubble but two semesters makes you nothing like an expert, sorry.
posted by fixedgear at 2:43 PM on January 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

You should do the eval and not lie. In our local court system, if you get a DUI, an eval is a very common recommendation for an attorney to make because it may help to get you into a diversion program of some sort. Requiring an alcohol evaluation isn't something to take lightly because if you ARE an alcoholic and don't get treatment you are much more likely to get a second DUI and the deffered sentence you get from the first DUI will be yanked and you could end up in jail. Unless of course DUI #2 kills someone, then you go to prison. Yep, drinking and driving is that serious.
posted by MsKim at 2:46 PM on January 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Addictions counsellors know the twelve step program doesn't work for everyone. Stating that to them will not have them seeing you as being in denial. Other things you say might, but that won't.

Also, if your use of alcohol is causing problems in your life (like getting arrested), then you have an alcohol problem.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 2:47 PM on January 23, 2011 [7 favorites]

I want to not be diagnosed as alcoholic.

If you were DUI, your alcohol intake has already affected your ability to function safely in society, so it's perfectly reasonable for the legal system to want to explore whether or not you meet their definition of "alcoholic".

The courts are dealing with large numbers of people who are drinking and driving, and they're not interested in drilling down to the specific level of granularity of whether any given offender understands their issues with alcohol in a way that corresponds to the AA definition of alcoholism. They just don't give a rat's ass what you think about this--if you have more than one DUI, you're going to be ordered to follow the kind of treatment plans that are available to them and which have the overall best results to date.

This is not the time to argue with the court system about how they understand alcohol abuse. This is the time to put the best spin possible--while still being honest, of course--on your relationship with alcohol, and most of all to convince them that you are never, ever, ever in a million years going to drink and drive again.

And then don't ever drink and drive again. Seriously. You are not the one magical snowflake who drives much better when you're boozed-up; you just haven't gotten caught every other time you were drinking and driving.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:50 PM on January 23, 2011 [14 favorites]

The particular thing you should say is that you don't drink anymore, and it should be a true thing that you're saying.
posted by anildash at 2:52 PM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's fairly simple. Go to the DSM's criteria for Substance Abuse and Substance Dependence. This is how treatment facilities diagnose people, not those lists of questions 12-step groups usually provide. Since this is in the privacy of your own mind, honestly ask yourself if your drinking history and the consequences of that history meet or don't meet criteria. There is no such thing as a diagnosis of "alcoholic." Addiction/addict are social terms, not actual diagnostic categories.

There is no reason to voice your opinion on the disease model or 12-step groups during the intake. This is an evaluation, not a treatment strategy.

Most decent counselors to not automatically think DUI=Substance Abuse. Good ones are less interested in "denial" as you may think.
posted by space_cookie at 3:05 PM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

your attny wants you to undergo the eval because being diagnosed as an "alcoholic" will mitigate your sentencing as well as the possible outcome of your case (dependent upon state). IANYL: lie. if you want. the first visceral reaction is to not be labled as an alcoholic. sure, none of us want to be - and the discussion here is not whether you are or not. but if you want to convince the court that you are not an alcoholic, say as much. they won't look too hard at you in all honesty. just keep in mind, that an admission of being an alcoholic may work for you in some cases. however, this will then become a record of the court. you need to sit down with your lawyer and talk ultimate strategy.
posted by ps_im_awesome at 3:12 PM on January 23, 2011

Right, as people are saying helpfully above, your attorney is making sure that you're headed toward diversion. The "diversion" they're referring to is diversion from sentencing. So he is actually trying to get you labeled as "someone who is having trouble with alcohol." (Not necessarily an "alcoholic.") Maybe you are! Maybe you're not. They don't stamp this information on, like, your passport and tax returns and stuff.

The reason that many states do this is that it is largely agreed that jail is not a treatment for alcohol abusers. (You may or may not agree with that.)

Listen, here's my honest advice. Say whatever you want! Lie if you want, as the poster above said! Minimize your alcohol intake! Tell them you never drink at all and this was one mistake! It's your life, and you can report it however you like. Represent yourself as you see fit--you're clearly opinionated and have many cemented ideas about how things are.

Your best possible outcome here—in terms of lack of interruption to your life—is that you get the blood alcohol results thrown out of court on a technicality; your second best is that you get to keep your license and possibly have to go to some counseling, or mandated meetings, or, blech, really, really boring weekly classes. That you'll probably have to take a bus to get to. Your third best is some nights in jail. Fourth best is no longer having the privilege of being a driver. The good news is that first-time DUIs are usually charged as misdemeanors. But since people who get DUIs are likely, statistically speaking, to get another DUI, it's somewhat probable you'll have a chance to find out what happens when you're charged with a felony. Best of luck.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 3:33 PM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I went through this a few years ago, it consisted of some urinalysis and a whole lot of questions in a survey format. The survey obviously assumed I was lying (under the presumption that anyone under the stress of the court system, an upcoming sentencing, and all the other factors involved in a DUI will probably lie, I guess).

The questions ranged from "how often do you drink/when was your last drink" to "what was your relationship with your parents/were your parents drinkers/when was the last time you drank with your parents"? - totally designed to trip me up and make me answer differently than I had previously, and appear inconsistent in my "story". After I answered the survey, I was personally interviewed, and asked about why I got the DUI/what happened, and then a long session of questions/answers that were obviously cued from my survey answers - trying to see if I was lying or not.

So, here's some advice based on that experience.

- Don't drink or do drugs until you have a clear path ahead of you to resume drinking or drugs. That means you should stop now. You will likely be sentenced to not use any drugs or alcohol as part of your sentence anyway, and you be monitored for compliance, so it would be better to stop now and get your system clear for the urinalysis process that you'll be getting pretty comfortable with for the duration.

- Get your story straight in your head. You have two paths here - lie, and create a story that fits the answers you'll need to provide for the survey (so you better get the details right), or be completely honest and don't lie, which, while emotionally difficult, will probably result in a better result in the long run because you won't be tripping over yourself trying to make sure you come across well.

- Don't mention your aversion to 12 step programs. It will look like denial to people in the court system who aren't sympathetic to your issues with it.

Good luck.
posted by disclaimer at 3:34 PM on January 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

[This is not legal advice, and I am not your lawyer.]

You need to talk to your lawyer about your concerns to see whether you really should go in for the eval. But keep in mind this is something you might have to do anyway. In Oregon, everyone who pleads to a DUII, including people who do diversion, have to do a court-ordered evaluation and treatment. So I'd tell clients to do the eval in advance so I can say something to the judge like "Your honor, Mr. Anon realizes now he could have seriously injured someone that day by being DUII. He hasn't had problems with alcohol before but because of this, he's already done an evaluation because he wants to make sure he never does it in the future."

Generally, when I tell a client to do something like an eval in advance, it's to give me an extra tool to use at sentencing to try to reduce the jail time, or work crew, or fine that the judge would be imposing. The treatment people I know (in Oregon, at least) will be more concerned about your denial of the need for treatment or the "disease mode model of alcoholism" than what got you there in the first place. At least, that's been my experience.
posted by Happydaz at 4:31 PM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

in the way of background: back in the day, i would have rather been diagnosed insane than labeled an alcoholic. i spent lots of wasted time pouring over medical books trying to find some arcane medical condition that could explain why i *appeared* to be loaded but actually wasn't. of course, i never found that particular magic bullet. that's the absolute truth, which is a pretty good indicator that i am, indeed, an alcoholic.

my only advice would be to tell the truth--in the end, it's always easier--and check any hostility or defiance at the door. my experience with substance abuse folks is that at-ti-tude will be construed as negative & will raise a flag or two.

good luck.
posted by msconduct at 4:41 PM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

1) Perjury is bad. Keep that in mind.

2) I served on a jury for a DUI- we tossed out the testing results on a technicality, and convicted the dude on the actual charge of driving impaired. It is possible in my state to make that call; your lawyer knows more than either of us on that topic. Consult them and don't just hope the test gets tossed.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:44 PM on January 23, 2011

Could you be in denial about your drinking? School education is not a cure or an antidote to make one able to control what one drinks. Someone who wasn't in denial might not need to come up with a strategy to prove they weren't alcoholic. Someone in denial might. Just saying.
posted by Xurando at 6:22 PM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

If this is a state-registered evaluator specifically for a DUI arrest (as opposed to an independent, non-affiliated counselor), then depending on the state, the results of the evaluation can determine whether you're referred to counseling (which then becomes mandatory for getting your license back). Red flags for referral include but are not limited to:

Drinking-related concerns: If your BAC was above a certain level, you will automatically be referred. A history of heavy drinking and/or trouble controlling alcohol use will also get you referred.

Drug-related concerns: Ongoing drug use or the use of highly-addictive substances will get you referred. Admitting to smoking a few joints in college will not.

Health-related concerns: This includes mental health. If you have a history of depression or other psychiatric problems, this can get you referred.

Personal concerns: If they think you are lying in the evaluation, this can get you referred. How do they know if you're lying? They'll ask you similar questions repeatedly and look for variations in the answer. They'll also be looking for implausible answers. For example, if you had a high BAC level and you tell them you're not a regular drinker, they'll assume you're lying; an infrequent drinker after 5+ cocktails is likely to pass out or get sick before they can get behind the wheel. A lack of concern or regret w/r/t the charge is also likely to get you referred.

Family-related concerns: If you have a history of alcoholism in your family, you're likely to get referred.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:09 PM on January 23, 2011

I studied alcohol and drug addiction in two semesters of college, so I'm somewhat familiar with the field. I do not believe in the disease model of alcoholism, nor in the 12-step process. I am concerned that this belief will be interpreted by the counselor as "denial."

Your concern is probably right. It does sound like denial. And, your beliefs aren't relevant regarding the courts.

What were the circumstances of the arrest? How many times have you driven drunk before and NOT been caught? How were you caught: pulled over because of suspicious driving, or checkpoint? These things matter, both to a counselor and the court, and to your own self-evaluation.

Look, it is gut-check time: at least for the time that you were driving drunk, you were an alcoholic. Knowing you have to drive and proceeding to get drunk is de-facto alcohol abuse.
posted by gjc at 7:24 PM on January 23, 2011

at least for the time that you were driving drunk, you were an alcoholic

Alcohol abuse is not the same thing as alcoholism. Someone who has driven drunk is, of course, much more likely to be an alcoholic than someone who has never driven drunk. But unless you consider 13% of the US population to be alcoholics, it's not a valid equivalence to make.

That said, OP should strongly consider the possibility that they have problems with alcohol. I say "have problems" because addiction is really more of a gradient than a binary concept, AA official philosophy notwithstanding.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:39 PM on January 23, 2011

I'm sorry basically no one is answering your question; whether or not your an alcoholic and whether or not the 12-step process is effective or just the only game in town are both immaterial.

You need to talk to your lawyer and understand what the game plan is. It might very well be in your best interest to go along with the process even if you do not believe in the 12-step program or that you are an alcoholic. (Everyone suggesting that you are an alcoholic in this thread, of course, has no idea what they're talking about. Maybe you are, maybe you aren't.) Bear in mind that you are likely in a Catch-22; since the first step is admitting you have a problem, denying that you are an alcoholic will be seen as proof that you are one. Hence, you might have to relinquish on this point. Yes, this is maddening, but it may be the least harmful course of action for you, and if you are in fact an alcoholic, it may lead to the help you need.

Talk to your lawyer. Ask what the consequences, if any, of being diagnosed an alcoholic may be.
posted by spaltavian at 7:58 PM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine used to be a rather severe alcoholic and received a number of DUIs in his early 20's. Now, almost 30, he is still not legally able to drive. In the last 3 years he has been completely sober, and has been working toward regaining the privilege of driving, but it has been tough for him.

He, too, was required to have a chemical dependency evaluation about a year ago, in an attempt to regain his license. He told the counselor that he doesn't think he's an alcoholic currently. He explained about how he has completely quit drinking and has never needed to go to AA or anything. He just, you know, stopped drinking.

Even the counselor told him that this was a terrible answer. It may have been honest, but it's not what the courts want to hear. They want to hear you say that you're an alcoholic who's in recovery, that you haven't had a drink in x amount of time. And ideally, you'd have a chip from AA to prove that you've been going to meetings and staying sober for x amount of time.

You may think it's horseshit, but get thee to an AA meeting. Even if you don't believe in it, play the legal system's stupid little game, because it's their game you're playing now. You don't make the rules. Your personal opinions regarding addiction, correct or not, are irrelevant.

I'm sorry, but that does seem to be how it works. At least where I come from. Of course, if you're still drinking, consider that you really are an alcoholic, and try to get some help for that. it's a lousy addiction and if you have it, be honest about it and try to sort it out now. Quitting isn't going to get any easier with time.
posted by apis mellifera at 10:48 PM on January 23, 2011

Just as an aside, there are other options in addictions counselling besides AA. There's Structured Relapse Prevention, there's other things I can't think of right now. AA is not the only game in town.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:19 AM on January 24, 2011

I am just wondering why you have this fear of being diagnosed. As far as my understanding goes, the evaluation and whatever treatment comes of it is usually to appease the judge and show you are already in the process of getting and seeking help. I would think you would be willing to do what your lawyer says since you hired him based on his knowledge. Why do you fear this diagnosis so much?
posted by heatherly at 11:04 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also FWIW, the long quiz in AA's big book consists of two questions.

If, when you honestly want to, you find that you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic.
posted by heatherly at 11:08 AM on January 24, 2011

IANYL, of course. And this is not legal advice at all but rather a loose collection of experience and anecdotes that has nothing to do with you.

Usually if you're getting an evaluation it's to provide the attorney or the court with some extra tools to use for disposing of the matter. I've seen this used in two situations routinely: custody fights or DUIs. In the former, it's almost always in your best interest to game the system; being an active alcoholic can be a major negative strike if you're fighting over kids (and if you have kids and might have a custody fight in the future, consider that too). In the latter, it's usually either positive or neutral; if you turn out to show some signs of alcohol dependency, you could well qualify for diversion programs or the like in lieu of jail time or community service. Which might well be far preferable. Who knows, you could actually have a problem that gets addressed.

Talk to your attorney, and in all seriousness perhaps you should just approach this sincerely. Most psychological evaluations have a component that checks to see if you are just trying to game it; if you constantly pick a goody-two-shoes answer it could well wind up making you look like a sociopath instead of an occasional binge drinker.
posted by norm at 12:00 PM on January 24, 2011

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