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Dealing With Legal Problems & Alcohol

legal problems with addictionAlcoholism is often a secret disease, as the majority of the damage a family endures takes place behind closed doors. While families might struggle with finances, emotional health and unity on a daily basis, they might put on a brave face for the world, as though nothing was wrong. Even so, people who drink sometimes engage in behaviors that spill out of the private sphere into public spaces. At times, that behavior breaks specific laws, and when police officers get involved, the family might be asked to deal with very troubling and serious legal issues. It can be a scary time, but with help, families may emerge from these challenges intact, and they may come to regard the issue as the turning point at which their fragile family began to heal.

Specific Arrests for Adults

Some alcohol-related transgressions merit nothing more than a simple ticket and a fine. People who carry open containers of alcohol in public places can face these problems in some states, for example, as can people who bring any kind of alcohol into a public park. But there are times when people who drink in public do so when they’re driving a car, or these people might slide behind the wheel after a long bout of drinking.According to DrinkingAndDriving.org, 900,000 people are arrested each year for driving while under the influence. Some people are arrested after an accident, while others are arrested after they’re pulled over for poor driving behaviors commonly attributed to alcohol, including:

  • Ignoring stop signs
  • Neglecting to use turn signals
  • Weaving in and out of lanes
  • Driving under the speed limit
  • Neglecting to turn on headlights

Arrests stemming from drinking and driving are always considered serious. In some states, fines can run into the thousands of dollars, and getting automobile insurance after a conviction on charges like this can be difficult, if not impossible. If the arrest occurred after an automobile accident, the charges might be even more severe, and they could include counts that merit jail time.

Arrests for Young People

While some might feel as though the laws regarding alcohol and adults are strict, those that govern alcohol use among young people are even more severe. After all, the laws in this country are designed to keep youths away from alcohol until they’ve reached a specific age. As a result, any teen who is caught with alcohol can be arrested for the activity, even if the teen isn’t visibly drunk and can pass a blood test for alcohol consumption. Just purchasing alcohol or carrying it around could be an offense that merits legal attention, and in most states, it’s not an offense that ends with a fine. Instead, young people in possession of alcohol are often asked to go through the typical arrest-and-booking process, and the offense stays on their record. While most adults know that young people really shouldn’t be drinking, anecdotal evidence suggests that more teens are arrested now for possessing alcohol, when compared to years past. For example, one Iowa county reported 28 arrests for minors in possession of alcohol in 2011, and that figure jumped to 68 in 2012. While these arrests are serious for young people, if the adults responsible for these teens provided or purchased that alcohol, they might also face law enforcement action. Alcoholic parents with lax rules about booze in the home might be arrested for giving their kids drinks, or they might be asked to prove they can provide a suitable home for children, or run the risk of losing custody.

Alcohol and Work

Some people are arrested on alcohol-related infractions while they’re at work. Pilots who have breath laced with alcohol, for example, might fail their pre-flight tests and get arrested because they had planned to fly an airplane.

People who crash their cars while driving on the job might also be arrested at the scene of the accident, and they might face charges due to their intoxication.

People who are arrested while on the job might believe that the laws protect their alcoholism, meaning that they won’t be asked to pay for their crimes. While it’s true that the Americans with Disabilities Act does include some provisions requiring alcoholism, an article produced by the American Bar Association suggest that those inclusions wouldn’t apply to people who were drunk and endangering others. Those employees might reasonably be considered at fault due to misconduct, and their employers wouldn’t be required to accommodate their alcoholism at work. They could be both arrested and fired as a result.

Indirect Problems

While some arrests due to alcohol are clear-cut, meaning that the person drank and then did something ill-advised while under the influence, some alcohol-related arrests are much more complicated. For example, researchers writing in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs suggest that alcoholism is “significantly associated” with violent acts that lead to jail time. It’s unclear why alcohol can make some people lash out at their neighbors or at strangers, but it is clear that alcoholism can spark violence in some people, and those acts could lead to very complicated police action. It’s easy to say that the violence is to blame, but alcohol seems to be the trigger that makes these acts a little easier to accomplish.

Alcohol can also make people impulsive, willing to do things they might not ever consider while they were sober. While drunk, people could get arrested for all sorts of silly acts, including:

  • Public nudity
  • Graffiti
  • Shoplifting
  • Trespassing

These actions might seem reasonable in the moment, but the arrest could be very serious, and police officers might very well tack on public intoxication charges along with charges for these specific acts.

Getting Help

When sobriety returns and an alcoholic person is faced with the very real consequences of the arrest, panic and a deep sense of loss can set in. Arrests are often quite public, and it’s not uncommon for arrested people to see their mugshots splashed across the Internet and local newspapers. The sense of humiliation can be extreme, and waiting for the charges to resolve can also be devastating. In some cases, it’s best to hire a lawyer to help with this troubling time. These legal professionals can help to ensure that the law is applied properly and that the punishment is suitable for the offense that has taken place. For some charges, this legal help is mandatory, and the courts will supply a lawyer for those who cannot afford the service. In other cases, however, a lawyer is considered a luxury and families are required to cover their own fees. At the end of the legal process, some alcoholics are asked to enter treatment programs for their addiction. They might be asked to enroll in counseling programs and provide proof of their attendance, for example, or they might be required to attend counseling classes while they’re in prison for their crimes. This kind of compulsory treatment sounds unpleasant, and the idea behind these programs seems to run counter to popular ideas about addiction. After all, people who are forced to enter treatment programs aren’t choosing to get better. They haven’t accepted their alcoholism diagnosis. They’re just doing what they’re told. Thankfully, the research suggests that people who enroll in compulsive programs heal at rates similar to those seen in people who choose to get help. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that men who completed court-ordered programs for addiction were less motivated to change when the program began, when compared to people who enrolled voluntarily, but when five years had passed, these people had the same abstinence rates and employment rates as those in the other group. Both sets of people healed, even though their reasons for healing differed. For the family of someone arrested due to alcohol, an arrest could be the spur that leads to healing. In some cases, people who are enrolled in programs like this are required to stay in touch with the court and provide progress notes about their alcoholism. Some addiction facilities handle these details for clients, but other facilities ask their clients to hire their own intermediary who can work as an interpreter between the person and the court. This is a detail families should be sure to understand before treatment begins, as a lack of compliance with the court could lead to severe punishments. Not everyone who is arrested for an alcoholism issue spends time in jail or in court-mandated treatment programs, however, and this might be especially true of people who hire savvy lawyers who can parse the information and find a road out. But, those who don’t pay for their crimes with their time shouldn’t be completely exonerated by their families. They still have an alcoholism issue, and that issue clearly has the potential to make life difficult or even impossible. Families can use the arrest as an example in an addiction intervention, ensuring that the person understands the damage alcoholism can cause, and the price for that addiction that might come due in the very near future. At Futures of Palm Beach, we can help you find an interventionist for this difficult conversation, and we can even smooth out the enrollment process, so the person you love can enter our program and get help as soon as the talk is through. Please call us to find out more about this.