We spent a week at the National Association for Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) Annual Conference where a common theme emerged about the individualistic nature of alcohol addiction and abuse. Many DUI treatment courts and corrections programs have the same requirements for every alcohol client regardless of their risk and need levels, which can negatively impact their outcomes.
We summarized a few of the workshops that supported the idea that DUI courts and treatment programs find the most success when they develop requirements that support individual alcohol clients based on their needs and risks.
Combating Bias in Alcohol Programs
In their session, “Moving Targets: Critical Considerations for the DWI Court Population,” Shane Wolf of the National Center for DWI Courts (NCDC) and Julie Seitz of the Center for Alcohol & Drug Treatment covered ways to overcome preconceived notions about alcohol clients in order to place them in the most appropriate DUI program.
The presenters noted that while alcoholism and alcohol abuse knows no bias against its sufferers, research shows that sometimes parole officers, treatment providers, and evaluators experience an implicit bias against alcohol clients that can negatively affect their recovery. For example, clients that are good candidates for certain programs may not be enrolled because the evaluator does not believe they will succeed.
By treating alcohol clients as individuals through encouraging them to tell their unique story and focusing on the facts of their history, evaluators can combat this unconscious bias and connect clients with the most effective program that best fits their needs. Programs that adequately combine validated assessment and screening tools and realistic expectations based on clients’ risk and need levels will ultimately produce the best outcomes.
Alcohol Programs Should Not Be “One Size Fits All”
“Cut DUI Recidivism for Good: A Multi-Track DUI Court Approach to Repeat Offenders,” presented by Judge Richard Vlavianos of the San Joaquin County DUI Monitoring Court, provided a detailed look at how courts that supervise a wide range of alcohol clients can integrate different alcohol monitoring technologies to best fit the spectrum of offenders.
Judge Vlavianos noted that the most successful DUI court programs assess and account for the different risk and need levels of participants. In fact, programs meant for higher-risk alcohol clients can actually have a negative effect on those with lower risks and needs by influencing them to recidivate or regress in their recovery.
Instead of relying on a “one size fits all” approach, the session examined how DUI courts can experience better results by developing different track systems with monitoring technologies and tactics that more appropriately “fit the crime.” Track systems can also be used to incentivize compliance or provide sanctions if participants are able to move to a different track based on their behavior.
The San Joaquin DUI Monitoring Court (SJDMC) successfully reduced annual DUI arrests by 66% and alcohol-involved collisions by 46% by integrating a track system with alcohol monitoring tailored to their unique offender population.
Breaking the Stigma of Alcoholism
Tara Handron of Caron Treatment Centers offered an interesting look at the individuality of alcoholism and recovery in the session “Drunk with Hope: A One Woman Show,” based on her research on recovering female alcoholics and their varied experiences with AA, 12-Step programs, and online recovery meetings.
Despite being a legal substance, a social stigma exists around alcoholics—oftentimes they are portrayed as “bums” or party animals that can’t seem to turn their life around. Through her dynamic and diverse characters, Tara illustrated that the person you least expect could be an alcoholic, and the story behind each individual’s addiction and recovery differs from person to person.
Understanding that alcohol addiction and abuse affects people very differently can help DUI courts, corrections, and treatment providers create programs that support the individualistic needs of clients and ultimately produce the best recovery outcomes.