There is one way that a drunk driving arrest can be a good thing. It can provide an opportunity for the offender to recognize he or she has a problem with drinking, especially when driving.

A 2002 study revealed that most first-time offenders who entered a “driving under the influence of alcohol” (DUI) program acknowledged that they needed to change both their drinking and their drinking-and-driving behavior, and indicated that they were trying to do so.

DUI or “driving while intoxicated” (DWI) causes a car crash every 53 minutes in the United States. Drunk driving kills about 10,000 people every year. And while deaths involving a drunk driver have fallen by a third over the past 30 years, your chance of being in an alcohol-impaired crash is still one in three over the course of your lifetime, according the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Almost half of all fatal car crashes involve alcohol use. These deaths and damages cost our nation more than $52 billion per year.

When alcohol use becomes unsafe

Unhealthy alcohol use is any drinking that puts your health or safety at risk or causes other alcohol-related problems. Alcohol use disorder can be mild, moderate or severe, based on the number of symptoms you experience. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Feeling a strong craving or urge to drink alcohol; spending a lot of time drinking, getting alcohol or recovering from “hangovers”
  • Failing to fulfill your obligations at work, school or home due to repeated alcohol use
  • Giving up or reducing social, work activities and hobbies
  • Developing a tolerance so you need more alcohol to feel its effect
  • Having withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating and shaking when you don’t drink; or drinking to avoid these symptoms

What works

Here are some proven tips to avoid being a drunk-driving statistic:

  • There are no exceptions to the rule: If you’ve been drinking, do not drive.
  • Never ride in a car with a driver you suspect is under the influence of alcohol. Even one drink can impair your safety.
  • Designate a sober driver to be the “designated driver” before celebrations begin. Never put yourself in a position where your might drink and drive. Utilize public transportation, taxis or Uber. Anticipate staying with friends, in a hotel or walking home after drinking. It’s especially important for teenagers to have a safe person to call in an emergency.
  • Plan safe parties that include non-alcohol drink options and stop serving alcohol before the last hour of the party.
  • Support public efforts for laws that: make it illegal for people under age 21 to drive with any amount of alcohol in their system (called “zero tolerance”); maintain the minimum legal drinking age at 21; and allow a state to take away or suspend the offender’s driver’s license for a minimum of 90 days.
  • Support efforts to mandate ignition interlocks on the cars of all DUI and DWI offenders, including first-time offenders. These devices measure alcohol on the driver’s breath and, if above a certain level (usually 0.02% blood alcohol concentration), it keeps the car from starting. These are highly effective at preventing repeat offenses while installed.
  • Be sure the public schools in your town provide school-based instructional programs about alcohol use. These have shown to be effective at teaching teens not to ride with drunk drivers.
  • Encourage your doctor to do alcohol screening and brief interventions if you or a loved one is arrested for a DUI or DWI. Take advantage of “teachable moments” right after an alcohol-related accident or law enforcement encounter.
  • Ask your doctor for a treatment plan. Studies show that most alcohol abusers can benefit from treatment. Your doctor can also prescribe medications or recommend a treatment clinic or addiction center. Three medications have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating alcohol use disorders.
  • Talk to your children, well before the teen years, about your standards for alcohol use and why you have these standards. Parents can be very influential over their child’s drinking behavior and decisions about alcohol and driving. Even more powerful is the example that parents set for safe alcohol use. The younger the child, the more effective a parents’ influence can be.
  • Consider behavioral therapy, such as counseling or support groups. It can help you develop skills to avoid or overcome stress and other triggers that can lead to drinking. Behavioral therapy helps you set realistic goals, identify feelings and situations that might lead to heavy drinking, and offer tips to manage stress, according to the National Institutes of Health.
  • Attending mutual-support groups is another very effective part of successful treatment. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs provide peer support for people quitting or cutting back on their drinking. Combined with treatment led by health professionals, mutual-support groups can offer a valuable added layer of support.

Alcohol dependence is a complex disorder and there’s not a one-size-fits-all type of treatment.