Help for Alcoholism

Help for Alcoholism

Help for Alcoholism

No Common Sense or No Choice

By Ned Wicker

So many of the questions we receive on a daily basis center around the choices that people make in their lives. They “choose” to drink, or use an illegal drug, or abuse prescription medication. Family members want to know why they do this, or they ask for some insight into the reasons why their loved one’s personality has changed so dramatically. Sometimes the actions of the addicted person are so ridiculous that one can only conclude that the disease has completely taken over.

For example, a Wisconsin woman was convicted recently of her eighth drunken driving violation. The 58 year-old showed up at her sentencing hearing…drunk. She was given an 18-month prison sentence with five years of extended supervision.

She was then taken to jail, where she was given a breath test, producing a blood alcohol concentration of .196 percent, or about two and a half times the legal limit. Prior to the sentencing hearing she was out on a signature bond, told that she was not allowed to drink. She claimed she didn’t know that.

The trip to prison is not her first. About eight years ago she spend 13 months behind bars for the same offense. To her credit, she had not had any run-ins with the law since getting out, until she was picked up recently for her eighth offense.

This case is all about what to do with an alcoholic who chooses to drive. Do you throw them in jail, lock the door and throw away the key? As much as an eight-time loser might be shocking to some, the real number that is of interest is how many people drink and drive every day and get away with it?

While there is a punitive element to this woman’s case, the 18th months she is locked up should be used for treatment. You can lock her up for twice that length of time, but she will still come out of prison a “dry drunk” and she’ll probably go right back to drinking. If the prison time could be used for teaching and restructuring her lifestyle choices, she might have a chance to live a reasonable life.

Call it preventative care. If a person goes through eight trials, eight convictions and a couple of prison sentences, chances are better than good that the cost of all of that is far greater than the cost of one robust treatment program. The prison system in Wisconsin, as in other parts of the country, is overcrowded with non-violent offenders. DUI, drug possession or similar offenses present opportunities for the prison system to offer treatment and avoid repeat offenses.

I once overheard a conversation between two women. They were talking about their boyfriends, both of whom had multiple run-ins with the law for possession. Both had spent time in prison. Both were unemployed and had been for a long time. The women were lamenting the fact that their boyfriends were using the prison system for subsistence.

One told the other, “He wants to go to jail because they support him. That’s his job. He gets out and all he does is do drugs and get arrested again.” The other woman wasn’t at all shocked by the statement. She replied, “At least he doesn’t overdose in there, or get sick. My guy does more than he sells, so he doesn’t make any money. Jail is better for him.” Neither of the men had received any treatment. They go to prison for a short period of time, get released early and re-offend. Treatment is much less expensive than feeding, housing and paying medical bills. The woman with her eight convictions is a drain on the state, with a disease that perpetuates bad decisions. She does have a choice at some level, but the disease has progressed to the point where it makes the choices.

The choices made are bad ones, but without any positive influence to break the cycle of addiction, her ability to choose anything but the wrong direction is cast. She has been sentenced to 18 months, she’ll get out again, but what real choices will she have? The disease will still be with her. And so it continues.

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