REPEAT DUI OFFENDERS AND THE GENE CONNECTION
Most people learn the lesson the first time: After one DUI conviction, they cease drinking and driving. As I have discussed on this blog, a DUI not only results in a suspension of your driving privileges, criminal probation, mandatory DUI classes, and costs you a bunch of money, but it also can jeopardize your job and even make you unqualified for certain volunteer positions. So why would anyone drive drunk again after getting a DUI? Well, according the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 33 percent of all DUI convictions are for repeat offenses. In California, that means any DUI conviction after the first in a ten year period. We might make the reasonable assumption that a portion of this 33 percent—probably a good portion— are people who are addicted to alcohol (or drugs as the case may be). Repeat DUI offenses are, in my experience, the telltale sign of an addiction.
Continuing with my theme on my criminal website blog, maybe these repeat DUI offenders struggle not only with the psychological addiction but actually are in a battle with their own genetic makeup. The “alcoholism gene” is a controversial subject and no one such gene or genetic profile has yet to be identified. However, research clearly points to a genetic component in alcoholism. Just as we are born with a certain color eyes or skin because it is part of our genetic structure, so too, we are born with certain personality traits. As research has recently shown, personality traits are identifiable on a person’s genome and certain personality genomes overlap with mental illnesses. Thus, a person who has a gene variation that predicted a neurotic personality, which is one of the five well-established personality traits (there are five: extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, openness to experience and conscientiousness), shared the gene variation that predicted clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder.
According to the study linking personality genes and mental illness, when a personality trait becomes too dominant or unhealthy, it tips over into mental illness. It is well-documented that many people with depression or anxiety disorders self-medicate through the use of alcohol. We call them alcoholics but more precisely, these alcoholics are trying to cope with a debilitating mental illness. Might it be that the alcoholic’s genome has a gene variation predicting neuroticism that also corresponds in that same gene variation to the prediction of depression and anxiety disorder? Maybe this, not a so-called alcoholism gene, is the genetic link to alcoholism.
While some studies have shown that repeat DUI offenders have a deficit in decision-making skills or suffer from impulse control, there is certainly a segment of repeat offenders who are self-medicating alcoholics. For the most aggrieved, 12-step programs, mandatory DUI classes and increasing threat of punishment, don’t always stop the behavior. How should society treat these repeat offenders? They are clearly a danger to the public but they also might have an inability to control their behavior. The question is complex and the answer may not be discovered before we are all getting around in self-driving cars (which will ipso facto end the crime of driving under the influence).
William Weinberg has almost 25 years experience defending drivers charged with driving under the influence. You may consult with him about your DUI matter by contacting him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or emailing him at Bill@williamweinber.com.