Are we too harsh on drunk drivers here in Texas?

We think we have been fair about pointing out the very serious consequences that can come from drunk driving, such as harm to innocent people and damage to property both public and private.

But a recent study that draws a link between drunk driving and a lifetime of risky alcohol use once again raises the idea that convictions that rehabilitate people's problems, rather than just punish them, may be the better approach.

The study was conducted by the Behavioral Health Research Center of the Southwest in Albuquerque, New Mexico., That's where researchers interviewed 700 people who had a drunk-driving conviction and found that almost 50 percent of them had problems associated with heavy drinking. What's more, about a third of the people researchers interviewed met clinical criteria for having a mental health condition, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, or having a drug or alcohol dependence. In other words, it would appear that many people who are convicted of a DWI were driven to drive while they were intoxicated by an untreated mental health problem or chemical dependence.

The lead study author said a DWI conviction is "a red flag" that should be used to identify people who are not getting the help they need. She said the results of the study showed that many people convicted of DWI needed intensive treatment that they simply were not obtaining. It seems, then, that if people convicted of DWI got the help they needed when they were in jail, they might be at less risk of reoffending, which would make us all safer.

Source: Reuters, "Drunk drivers show risky lifetime drinking habits - study," June 21, 2012