Driving Under the Influence – How it Can Affect Your Family

DUIs are one of the most common reasons for traffic arrest and convictions in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2010 approximately 1.4 million people in the United States were arrested for DUI. In addition to alcohol, drugs often associated with DUI arrest include marijuana, cocaine, narcotics and prescribed medications that help with sleep, pain, anxiety, depression and other common health conditions.

The statistics from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) are startling and cause for concern

    • In 2012, approximately 10.3 million people reported driving while intoxicated with alcohol or illicit drugs.
    • Almost half of all drivers involved in crashes resulting in death had not only alcohol in their bloodstream, but also other drugs.
    • Repeat DUI offenders represent approximately one-third of arrests and convictions for DUI.
    • One in six teens regularly binge drinks.
    • High school students who participate in drug use or drink alcohol are five times more likely to drop out of school.
    • Drunk drivers cost every citizen of the United States approximately $800 per year.
    • In 2011, DUI accidents were attributed to adults aged 21 to 24, 30 percent to adults aged 25 to 34 and 24 percent to adults aged 35 to 44.

The use of alcohol and other drugs while driving or there is a possibility of driving is extremely prevalent in American culture. Teenagers going off to college are often exposed to group activities that include binge drinking. Going out for drinks after work on a Friday for Happy Hour frequently becomes a habit for many working adults. Going to the latest hip club on Saturday for a night out and trying out the newest cocktail is now part of entertainment. However, the potential catastrophic results of driving intoxicated are very real.

While it is easy to believe a DUI is an event impacting only the person arrested or convicted, in reality DUIs ripple throughout a person’s life in costly and emotional ways. Families of a person with a DUI may be impacted both financially and emotionally, resulting in strained relationships, financial instability and potential long-term family problems.

Financial Impact

Financially, a DUI can have a considerable affect on family finances. Not only are there court costs, legal fees and probation fees to be concerned about soon after a DUI arrest, but there are also long-term financial consequences. According to Bankrate, short-term costs for a DUI can range from $2,500 to $15,000 for first time offenders and be even higher for someone with multiple DUI arrests. These numbers do not even begin to account for other long-term costs, such as impediments to employment, budget constraints limiting a family’s ability to purchase new home and ongoing costs for mandated treatment, just to name a few.

If convicted, a person with a DUI may also be responsible for probation fees, the installation of monitoring equipment and more. Potential associated costs of a conviction include:

    • Court costs ranging from $500 to more than $2,000, depending on whether it is a first offense and location.
    • Attorney fees ranging from zero for self representation to amounts in excess of $10,000.
    • License reinstatement, which varies from state to state, but may range from $250 to $500.
    • Mandated substance abuse counseling or education, ranging from $250 to $500.
    • Ignition monitoring system, which requires an installation fee of approximately $200 and a rental fee ranging from $100 to $300 monthly.

All of these additional costs can place a strain on a family’s ability to pay for future expenses, such as college tuition for a child, family vacations or having income available to qualify to refinance or purchase a home.

Loss of License

All states automatically revoke or suspend a driver’s license after a DUI conviction. Each state varies in the length of time a driver’s license suspension lasts. Differences in license penalties can be significant, including:

    • Automatic suspension ranging from 90 days to two years for first offense.
    • Automatic suspension ranging from one year to five years for second offense.
    • Automatic and permanent revocation for three or more offenses.

Additionally, if a person refuses to take a breath or blood test, their action may automatically result in the loss of their driver’s license. While it is a person’s right to refuse to take either test, the consequences are the same as a DUI offence.

For families the impact of a family member losing their driver’s licence can be substantial. What used to be a quick run to the grocery store turns into negotiating for someone else to run a simple errand. If the individual with the conviction is a parent, routine events like taking the kids to school or after-school activities can become more difficult, placing an unexpected and unwanted burden on other family members.

Additionally, if a person loses their license, even for a relatively short period of time, they lose their ability to drive back and forth from work. Family members or friends may need to rearrange their schedules to accommodate a work schedule. This can potentially negatively impact their own work schedules. If there are no transportation alternatives available, there can be the very strong possibility of job loss, further straining the family budget.

For teenagers, losing a license means losing independence. Suddenly, a teen who enjoys being able to go to football games, dates and other activities may find themselves needing to ask friends or family members to run them around. Parents may discover themselves needing to spend more time supervising their teenager, taking them to mandated DUI education classes or diversion programs, resulting in having to pay for more gasoline than typical in the monthly budget, especially if the teen has been working and paying for their personal expenses themselves.

Current Employment

Many employers have policies in place that automatically end the employment of someone with a DUI. This can be a company’s human resources policy for all positions, regardless of whether or not driving is a regular part of employment duties. Even with a short-term temporary suspension, many employers have zero tolerance policies for drug-related convictions.

Delivery drivers or other professional drivers, can be automatically dismissed from their employment as a DUI, regardless of whether it is only an arrest or a conviction, due to a zero tolerance policy. Those who possess a commercial driver’s license and are employed as big rig truck drivers are almost always automatically dismissed from employment as a result of a DUI citation.

Individuals holding professional licenses may also be subject to strong penalties if they receive a DUI. Some professional licenses may be suspended pending trial and others may automatically have their license suspended. Examples of professional licenses impacted by a DUI include:

    • Attorneys
    • Medical Doctors
    • Pilots
    • Dentists
    • Nurses
    • Professional CDL Drivers
    • Police
    • Teachers
    • EMTs
    • Stockbrokers
    • Firefighters

Some professional regulatory associations require alcohol or other drug education and other disciplinary penalties be completed before a license can be reinstated after a first offense. However, numerous offences may result in a permanent ban from receiving certain professional licenses.

Increases in Insurance Premiums

Another item in the family budget that is impacted by a DUI is increased insurance costs. According to the organization Driving Laws, auto insurance for individuals with a DUI can increase by as much as $1,000 to $1,500 or more annually. In some cases, a DUI can result in car insurance premiums more than doubling or being cancelled entirely. A DUI places a driver in the high risk category of auto insurance. High risk drivers have a more difficult time obtaining affordable insurance, since high risk insurance is one of the most expensive forms of auto insurance.

Mandated Treatment

In some cases, a judge may require that a person with a DUI complete a residential treatment program, either in addition to jail time or as an alternative to jail time. While health insurance may pay a portion of the costs associated with alcohol or other drug treatment, there may be policy limitations on the amount that is paid or how often it can be applied over the lifetime of the policy.

The price for mandatory drug or alcohol treatment has a wide range. According to ChooseHelp, a one-day DUI educational course can cost as little as a few hundred dollars. However, longer treatment is substantially more expensive. Inpatient treatment may run several thousand dollars and private, extended treatment can run into tens of thousands of dollars.

Court mandated treatments must be provided by court approved providers. In addition to treatment, a DUI offender may also be subject to random testing. Generally, costs related to treatment and testing are at the offender’s expense.

Family Budget

Financially, job loss can create dramatic problems for a family. If the person with a DUI is the primary wage-earner in the family, the consequences can be dire. In the majority of families in the United States, both parents work. With the loss of income from one parent it can become financially difficult to cover basic costs, such as:

    • Mortgage
    • Groceries
    • Utilities
    • Insurance
    • Clothing
    • Childcare Costs
    • School Fees
    • Entertainment

Additionally, teenagers frequently have after school jobs to pay for their own expenses and entertainment needs because they have lost their job. With a DUI, they may discover that it becomes impossible to pay for dates, buy tickets to school events or join their friends in fun outings. Instead, they may find themselves trying to ask their parents for money for activities, placing a strain on the family budget. Parents may choose to limit or entirely eliminate a teen’s ability to participate in many of the activities they enjoyed prior to getting arrested for a DUI.

Future Employment Prospects

For individuals who are unemployed and looking for a job, a DUI conviction can make things difficult. A DUI conviction creates a criminal record. Even if an employer does not ask a job applicant if they have any criminal convictions, the majority of employers routinely run background checks on potential employees. Background checks often include information from multiple sources, including credit reports and public records. As part of the public record, a DUI conviction may automatically result in a potential job offer being withdrawn.

According to FindLaw, the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) governs all states regarding background checks. According to FCRA, DUI arrests may only be reported for seven years. However, convictions can be reported for an indefinite amount of time. Additionally, FCRA also limits consideration of DUI information for job decisions to positions with an annual salary of $75,000 or more. However, these limitations do not stop many employers from discovering a DUI as part of their routine investigations on potential employees.

Individual states govern how background checks can be used in the hiring and employment process. As of 2015, only 14 states require that employers justify their reasoning for refusing or ending employment. These states include:

    • Arizona
    • Colorado
    • Connecticut
    • Florida
    • Hawaii
    • Kansas
    • Kentucky
    • Louisiana
    • Missouri
    • New Mexico
    • New York
    • Pennsylvania
    • Washington
    • Wisconsin

The remaining states have no regulations restricting the use of background checks for employment purposes. These states are considered “at will employment” states, meaning that an employer can dismiss any employee, at any time, for any reason.

Emotional Toll on Families

While the financial impact of a DUI is substantial and can continue for years beyond an arrest, the emotional cost to a family may be even more long lasting and destructive. Family members may be concerned about potential substance abuse issues, experience grief and shame or have difficulties with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) if they were involved or present at the arrest. Additionally, family members may have difficulty explaining the consequences of a DUI on changes in their family structure or be ashamed to admit to friends that a parent or sibling has been arrested. Friendships may disappear out of fear of escalating problems or a desire to avoid potential problems for themselves in the future.

Within families, relationships may become strained. Couples may find themselves at odds about responsibility, drug or alcohol use or other underlying issues. Discussions and arguments between parents and children may become more frequent and even siblings may feel the effects of a DUI within the family.

Marital Strain

Most people do not get into their car after a drink or two thinking about the possible consequences to their marriage if they get pulled over. However, a marriage can become substantially at risk as a result of a DUI arrest.

In couples where one or both parties drink to excess, a DUI arrest can bring long simmering problems to the forefront. Concerns about excessive drinking or drug use can be validated. It can be very easy for couples to disregard one partner drinking too much on a regular basis, especially if they have been together for a number of years. Suddenly, when a DUI arrest happens, substance abuse problems are more closely examined. This can be particularly true if mandated treatment is included as part of DUI punishment.

According to attorney Susan Galamba from the Huffington Post, hidden or unaddressed alcoholism is frequently brought to the forefront of a marriage when a DUI occurs. Far too often, marriage partners cover for their spouses until either a single DUI or multiple DUIs occur. This becomes particularly problematic in a divorce. According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a DUI poses an increased likelihood of subsequent divorce. In part this is due to the additional stresses that result from a DUI arrest, including debt and extended loss of income.

Marriage partners can also become angry at a partner who exposes their family to potential legal action with a DUI. If drinking or drug use results in property damage or injury, the victims may decide to file a law suit for damages or wrongful death. A lawsuit of this type can entirely decimate a family, both emotionally and financially. Spouses can be angry at their wife or husband’s disregard for the potential consequences of their action. They may feel disrespected and even dismissed when the family is placed in substantial jeopardy.

Child-Parent Dynamics

Other relationships within a family can also become strained. If a DUI results in a suspended driver’s license, it can become necessary to explain why one parent is no longer driving the kids to school, afternoon activities or other events. Additionally, children may wonder why one parent is no longer going to work or why family activities are suddenly discontinued because of budgetary restraints. Older children can be embarrassed or resentful about the consequences of their parent’s actions, potentially influencing a child’s school performance, interactions with friends and feelings of being safe at home.

In the Mothers Against Drunk Driving booklet, Every Child Deserves a Designated Driver, the increased reporting of complaints against adults and parents driving with children in the car is reviewed. The results of these reports are charges of child endangerment being filed. When combined with a DUI charge, the consequences for the adult can be substantial. Prosecutors may press for enhanced penalties for parents or adults who drive impaired with children in the vehicle, including not only fines and mandatory treatment, but added jail time. Child endangerment charges can also place parental rights are risk, as it raises a red flag for Child Protective Services regarding appropriate and safe care of any children at home.

One of the most profound ways in which child-parent relationships can be impacted from a DUI is in cases of divorce and child custody. It is very common for DUI arrests and convictions to be raised as an issue in child custody cases. Parents who place their child in danger by driving impaired may find their parental abilities being questioned by judges, particularly if the parent in question is a repeat offender. In some cases, the result is restriction of parental visitation to supervised visits or parental rights being entirely severed in severe cases. According to one divorce information website, in some states, a single DUI arrest can be ample evidence to prove lack of fitness as a parent in a divorce case.

Parents are one of the primary role models for their children. As such, their actions and behaviors often speak louder than any lecture a parent can give their child about how to behave appropriately as an adult. Parents arrested for DUI can provide messages to their children about drug or alcohol use and responsible behavior, whether they intend to do so or not. Children with parents who have frequent DUI arrests demonstrate a pattern for children to potentially emulate in the future. The result is the ripples of a DUI can continue decades beyond the actual event.

Teenage Offenders

If the DUI offender is a child, parental relationships can also become strained. MADD statistics indicate that approximately one in six teenagers regularly engages in binge drinking. However, only 1 percent of parents believe their child would possibly engage in binge drinking behavior.
In a booklet published by Stanford University Trauma Center Hospital in 2006, it was noted that teen drinking and driving can have the following devastating consequences.

    • A DUI can remain on a driving record for up to ten years.
    • Minors arrested for drinking or being under the influence can lose their license for a year, even if they are not driving.
    • Teens arrested for DUI are commonly expelled from school and may lose potential college admittance and/or scholarships.
    • DUI arrests can lead to suspension or banning from extra curricular activities or groups.

Many teens fail to understand that consuming both alcohol and other drugs together is a potentially fatal mix. The chemical interaction between alcohol and multiple drugs intensifies the effects of all substances consumed, leading to even deadlier impairment. This places impaired drivers at even higher risks for fatal accidents.

Teen DUI offenders may forever change the trajectory of their lives. In addition to the legal penalties to their driver’s licence, they may discover that career hopes and plans change dramatically. If driving impaired results in an accident with property damage, injuries or the death of others, a teen may find that they are unable to attend college, are faced with substantial debts or in jail. In some states, minors can be charged as adults for involuntary manslaughter or vehicular manslaughter. If they are found guilty as an adult, they will serve their sentence in a state prison, not county juvenile hall.

For parents, the liability for a teen driving impaired can be substantial. A first-time arrest for DUI can increase auto insurance premiums dramatically. From a financial perspective, carrying a teen driver on an auto insurance policy can be costly enough, but if a DUI is added to the equation, the costs can be even more of a strain. Additionally, if a teen is involved in an accident that involves property damage, injury or death, the parents are liable for costs associated with those events, including being open to potential wrongful death lawsuits.

According to Promises, a substance abuse treatment center located in California, parents can also be held liable for potential negligent parenting or negligent entrustment liability if they allow their car to be used by an impaired child or the parent should have known that the child could possibly be impaired.

Patterns of Substance Abuse

A DUI can expose family patterns of substance abuse. Substance abuse does not exist in a vacuum. In many cases, substance abuse is a generational family pattern that can only be changed when it is addressed and conscious effort made to change it.

In a 2011 LiveScience article, it was revealed that teens who witness their parents drinking even an occasional glass of wine were more likely to drink and drive than children who did not see this behavior at all. The article went further to explain that approximately 6 percent of children whose parents drank at home were likely to drive after drinking. The percentage of adolescents who self reported drinking and driving went up to 11 percent if, in addition to seeing their parents drink, children also had friends who participated in underage drinking.

In an article entitled Substance Abuse – Family Factors Contributing to Risk and Resiliency, family patterns of substance abuse were outlined. The authors discuss the fact that generational problems related to substance abuse is a universally accepted concept today. Frequently, families can trace back the abuse of alcohol and other drugs from child to parent to grand parent and further. Along with this pattern, family patterns of DUI can also be traced. In many families, attitudes about drug and alcohol use have a significant role in how likely a family experiences incidents of DUI arrest and conviction. Other factors can contribute to the risk of engaging in drug use and alcohol abuse for teens. In particular, teenage boys who are being raised by their mothers in single family homes, but whose fathers are drug abusers are one of the groups at highest risk for being arrested for DUI violations.

Parents can play a key role in intervening if they suspect their child is engaging in any form of risky behavior, including potential substance abuse, thus heading off potential DUI arrests before they happen. Changes that may be of concern for parents include:

    • Changes in behavior.
    • Withdrawn behavior.
    • Changes in sleep patterns.
    • Changes in eating habits.
    • Changes in mood, including increased irritability and anger.
    • Secretive behaviors.
    • Worsening of school grades.
    • Dropping out of previously enjoyed extra curricular activities.
    • Questionable friends.

Parents have the ability to intervene at any point in time and may even consider engaging family or individual therapy. In the case of a DUI, such treatment may be mandatory as part of a sentencing agreement.

DUI and Substance Abuse Relapse

In many cases, a DUI arrest can come as a surprise to a family of a person who has been in recovery for many years. To outsiders, they may appear to be successfully living a clean and sober life. However, substance abuse relapse can be a significant factor leading to a DUI.

For many individuals in recovery, a relapse means returning to even heavier use of their drug of choice, according to Linda Foster of Everyday Health. In many cases, the addict fails to account for chemical changes in their body and uses the same amount of the drug as they did in the past, resulting in becoming intoxicated more strongly and quickly. It is well known that using alcohol and other drugs can compromise decision making skills and judgement. For individuals who have relapsed, the result can be making a poor choice to drive while intoxicated, resulting in a potential DUI arrest or DUI-related accident.

A multitude of issues and events can lead a person who has been in long-term recovery to relapse. These issues include work, family or marital stress, feeling overwhelmed, financial distress or mental health problems. Other factors that can trigger a relapse include holidays and celebrations, such as weddings or the birth of a new baby.

Approximately 85 percent for individuals addicted to opiates and 30 to 70 percent for individuals addicted to alcohol. Substance addiction is a chronic health condition for which there is no cure. As a result, even though it is possible to live clean and sober for years, experts agree that almost anyone with addiction has the potential for relapse.

For families of people living with addiction, the feelings of guilt about not knowing that a family member has relapsed can be destructive. They may blame themselves for not being diligent or for becoming complaisant about taking the risk for potential relapses seriously enough. This can be especially true if the DUI resulted in a catastrophic accident.

Family Death and Injuries

For families in which a family member’s DUI also results in the death or injury of other family members, the repercussions can be potentially irreparable. Between parents, blame and finger pointing for responsibility can be destructive and tear families apart at the seams.

In a paper published by the National Institutes of Health entitled Shame and Guilt, researchers discovered that individuals who were arrested for DUI and appeared before a judge experienced significant amounts of shame and guilt at having to publically be exposed for impaired driving. These feelings of guilt and shame can be further reinforced by family confrontations regarding the tragic consequences, particularly as related to injuries or death that resulted from their actions.

Families rarely recover from these losses quickly or easily. For years to come, families may find themselves reliving over and over again how one person’s actions changed the structure and dynamics of the family. In some cases, the offender may be ostracized or be pushed out of family events because of the constant reminder of their actions. Additionally, family members may continually raise accusations and recriminations about responsibility for allowing the person to get into a car while compromised.

Survivors and Victims

The families of the person accused of a DUI charge are far from the only ones suffering from the consequences of impaired driving. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2013 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), just over 10,000 traffic deaths occurred due to intoxicated driving accidents. This was a 2.5 percent drop from the previous year, but impaired driving continues to be of concern to highway patrol and police departments around the United States

For families who have a family member seriously injured or lose a family member due to an impaired driver, the emotional scars can last a lifetime. Gone are the hopes and dreams of parents for their children; children may be left without one or both parents. Sisters and brothers, aunt and uncles, grandparents are gone or changed forever. Parents may be left with lifelong expenses to care for a child who is no longer able to walk, speak or whose cognitive abilities are permanently compromised. Families may end up in court for years, caught in wrongful death or damage lawsuits.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, one of the recent innovations in helping families of both victims and perpetrators are Victim Impact Panels (VIPs). These panels allow victims and perpetrators to meet and express their experiences to each other, often in public forums. Many VIPs are conducted in schools or at churches and may also be assigned to perpetrators as part off their penalty. The hope is that participating in the VIP process will help perpetrators gain an understanding of the long-term impact of their actions. Additionally, having VIPs conducted in public venues may help audiences gain a better understanding of the potential consequences of future actions, having a diversionary impact.

Families who are victims of DUI perpetrators may also be able to file for victim compensation from the perpetrator or their family. Compensation can cover expenses such as:

    • Funerals
    • Hospital and Medical Expenses
    • Lost Wages
    • Child Care Expenses
    • Counseling Services
    • Criminal Scene Cleanup
    • Rehabilitation Expenses.
    • Prescription Expenses.

Similar to families of DUI perpetrators, families of victims also experience family relationship distress. Grief due to the loss of a child can separate and divide parents to the point of divorce. Additionally, children in victim families frequently experience higher rates of depression, anxiety and overall stress. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children who lose a family member have difficulty processing the loss of a sibling or family member and may persist in the belief that the person will return. Symptoms of grief in children include:

    • Disinterest in formerly enjoyable activities.
    • Changes in sleep habits.
    • Changes in appetite.
    • Fear of being alone.
    • Regression to earlier childhood behaviors, such as bed wetting.
    • Refusing to go to school.
    • Grades dropping.
    • Frequently imitating the lost person.
    • Expressing a desire to be with the lost person.
    • Withdrawing from friends or family members.

Also, adult family members are experiencing their own grieving process. They may find it difficult to be complete childcare activities adequately. Additionally, while their symptoms of grief may be similar to those of a child, adult symptoms can also include difficulty with concentration, unusual irritability, excessive eating or sleeping and imagining they are seeing or hearing the person who has died.

Victims of a DUI tragedy, whether they are the perpetrator or a victim, frequently experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health disorder in which a person believes they are in danger or in close proximity to danger of being hurt or killed. The Mayo Clinic cites common symptoms as:

    • Hypervigilance
    • Increased Startle Response
    • Difficulty Concentrating
    • Avoiding Reminders of the Event
    • Memory Problems
    • Flashbacks
    • Nightmares
    • Increased Agitation or Irritability
    • Depression
    • Withdrawal
    • Changes in Sleep
    • Changes in Appetite

The length of time a person experiences PTSD symptoms varies among individuals and be heightened in children. Parents may find their children needing high amounts of reassurance of their safety and also regressive behaviors.

The reverberations of a DUI can ripple through a family in multiple ways and for years after an arrest. Financially, families frequently discover that the long term costs reach into the thousands, impacting both current and future earnings, hopes and dreams of what can be provided for children or even retirement savings. Additionally, a suspended or permanently revoked driver’s license can have a dramatic impact on a family’s ability to pay for everyday bills or routine family activities.

Families are also impacted emotionally from a DUI. Family dynamics can be forever changed due to potential divorce, continued blame and recriminations. Additionally parents may be forced to examine the impact of their child’s behavior on the entire family. Strongly held beliefs about how their child spends their time or who they spend their time with may be challenged, along with generational attitudes about drug and alcohol use.

For families who are victims of a DUI driver, the feelings of loss and grief can be profound. They may be financially compromised through actions not of their own making, but for which they are still responsible. Parents may find themselves unable to cope with feelings of grief, rage and disbelief at how someone else’s actions have changed their families forever.

Nobody wins as the result of a DUI. Whether a perpetrator or a victim, families on both sides experience pain, grief and distress that continue for years. Families involved in a DUI, no matter the role, are changed forever.


American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry


Centers for Disease Control



Driving Laws

Everyday Health

Find Law

Galamba, Huffington Post



MADD Every Child Deserves a Designated Driver

MADD Victim Impact Panel

Mayo Clinic


NIH Shame and Guilt



Stanford University Trauma Center

Substance Abuse – Family Factors Contributing To Risk And Resiliency

Walmer Law Office


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