Thursday, May 6, 2010

Understanding New York DWI Alcohol Evaluations Part 2

When I practiced as a Chiropractic Physician (before my legal career) I was trained in the use of a psychological manual called the DSM- III (this is now the updated DSM- IV). DSM stands for The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Think of the DSM as "Abnormal Psychology for Dummies" and you have a better picture. This manual allows doctors, psychologists, social workers, addition specialists and a host of other mental health care servers to quickly look up a set of symptoms, patterns, and other behaviors and make a "potential" diagnosis or diagnoses.

As a doctor I needed to differentiate (and sometimes place a rule out diagnosis) between physical illness and psychological illness. Oftentimes patients would have a layer of psychological problems/issues aside from and in addition to their disc or nerve or muscle injury. Now the reason I bring up and explain all of this is because this manual is the "go to" guide for evaluators. As a DWI defense lawyer the manual has new significance for me and my clients.

The manual describes alcohol abuse as ANY "harmful" use of alcohol. Harmful use of alcohol can be further described as any use that causes physical and/or mental damage. We all know that alcohol by it's very nature causes brain cells to die (alcohol blocks oxygen from the brain) so an abuse diagnosis is a very common one.

Legally, Alcohol abuse merely requires education. This can often be in the form of New York State's DMV 7 week Drinking Driver Program (DDP). The Court can force compliance with treatment, rehabilitation, and education related to any plea and/or conviction. In some New York counties this must come before a final case resolution, but in the majority of others it comes as a condition of discharge with the Court (after the final disposition).

The question on everyone's mind is so where is the line between alcohol/drug "abuse" and alcohol/drug "dependence"?

Well generally the following are some of the behaviors that those dependent on alcohol may display:

1. Drinking only one type of alcoholic beverage or preferring one brand.
2. Only going to events, get togethers, and parties that serve alcohol.
3. Being able to drink more and more over time by increasing their tolerance to alcohol.

So far these first three sound like my college days or the behavior patterns of many of us, but please read on,

4. Making a decision to quit drinking and then feeling compelled to drink.
5. Drinking to help a hangover (after a night of intense drinking).
6. A compulsion to drink (feeling you have to drink).
7. Getting shaky and feeling ill if you do not drink (alcohol withdrawl symptoms).

If you become DEPENDENT on alcohol then you should seek help. These last 4 critieria indicate people that have a problem with alcohol.

If we look at what the DSM-IV states we find the following:

If you have (display) 3 of the following 7 symptoms (over the course of a year) you are classified as alcohol dependent. By the way, Alcohol "dependent" is a nice way of saying you have "alcoholism."

-You Neglect activities (giving up on your job, social, and joyful pursuits) because of alcohol,
-You drink Excessively (large quantities over long time periods) beginning drinking early to late,
-You Can not Control your drinking or cut back on drinking,
-You Keep drinking even though it is affecting you mentally, physically, and socially,
-You spend a large majority of time in activities that involve drinking alcohol,
-You get nausea, shakiness, anxiety, and sweating if you do not drink,
-You can really put it away (you have a very high tolerance).

My own personal opinion from helping thousands of people as both a Chiropractor, and as an attorney is those people with drug/alcohol problems usually know it. If they do not deal with it early and own up to it they will eventually be forced by the Court/Legal System to confront their issue with more pain and cost to them and their families in the long run.

To me there is nothing sadder than watching someone throw away their life, and their potential as human beings away due to misuse of drugs or alcohol.

Always consult with an attorney about any criminal or non-criminal charges you have pending to discuss your options and/or defenses.

I am certified in Field Sobriety and Breath Alcohol Testing, and an active member of the National College of DUI Defense (NCDD). My online materials include over 500 blog posts, dozens of articles, and over 500 informative videos on my youtube channel.

I have co-authored Strategies for Defending DWI Cases in New York, in both 2011 and 2013. These are West Thomson legal manuals on New York State DWI defense, and focus on the best practices for other lawyers handling a New York DWI case. I was selected by Super Lawyers as a Upstate New York 2013 Rising Star in DWI/DUI Defense based on my experience, contributions, and professional standing.

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