Many drunk drivers have other psychiatric disorders

Men and women arrested for drunk driving commonly suffer from psychiatric disorders and may benefit from interventions aimed at their mental health problems, researchers report.

Researchers studied more than 1,100 men and women convicted of driving while impaired (DWI) in New Mexico five years earlier. The drivers were interviewed about their history of drug and alcohol addictions, and other psychiatric disorders. Using standard diagnostic categories, researchers compared their rates of mental illness with estimates for the general population.

According to their study:

  • Ninety-one percent of the men and 85 percent of the women convicted of drunk driving reported having had an alcoholic-use disorder at some point in their lives.

  • This compares with 44 percent and 22 percent, respectively, in the general population.

  • Among the drunk drivers admitting to an alcohol use disorder, half of the women and one third of the men had at least one other psychiatric problem – mainly major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • Similarly, 38 percent of men and 32 percent of women convicted of drunk driving also had suffered a drug-use disorder (other than alcohol) at some point in their lives, compared with 21 percent of men and 16 percent of women in the general population.

    The fact that many of the study participants had multiple mental conditions suggests that addressing drunk drivers' alcoholism alone will not solve the problem, say researchers. If DWI offenders were screened and treated for their other psychiatric problems, they might have more success in their drug abuse treatment.

    Source: Drunk drivers often have mental disorders: study, Reuters Health, October 15, 2001; based on Sandra C. Lapham et al., Prevalence of Psychiatric Disorders Among Persons Convicted of Driving While Impaired, Archives of General Psychiatry, October 2001.

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