Mental health disorders predispose individuals to driving under the influence
People who drive under the influence (DUI) are a threat to other people. However, do drunk drivers get enough help?
Research by Karoliina Karjalainen, Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Tampere, shows that some mental health disorders predispose individuals to DUI.
Childhood and adolescence-onset disorders in particular, such as ADHD, are associated with driving under the influence of drugs. This connection has also been proved in other research.
11 per cent of DUI offenders who have been caught by the police in Finland have some kind of an emotional or behavioural disorder that has been diagnosed in hospital.
People suffering from both unipolar and bipolar mental health disorders have a heightened risk of driving under the influence of both drugs and alcohol. A unipolar disorder means mostly depression, the bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression.
“It was of course not surprising that many people who have been caught while driving drunk or drugged have diagnosed substance abuse disorders. What was more surprising was that other mental and behavioural disorders were also connected with drunk driving,” Karjalainen says.
Karjalainen works at the Research Collegium of the Institute for Advanced Social Research. She is conducting research on the social and health related exclusion of substance users in cooperation with the National Institute for Welfare and Health.
No to more punishment
Karoliina Karjalainen does not support the hard line that the DUI problems could only be solved by tougher sentences. She thinks that more effort should be put into prevention, i.e. at the very least to the social services of substance abusers and the treatment of their mental health problems.
“Driving under the influence is generally a consequence of problems, not their reason. Above all, an effort should be made to win over young offenders and first timers,” Karjalainen says.
Getting caught is one point at which a person can be guided in new directions. This has been the aim of the Tie selväksi (Road Clear) project coordinated by the National Institute for Welfare and Health, for instance, in which prompt intervention was offered to DUI offenders.
Preventing DUI is not easy but Karjalainen hopes that doctors would be more aware of the existence of the groups at risk.
Alcohol interlocks work
Alcohol interlocks in cars are one sure means of preventing driving under the influence.
“The alcohol interlock cannot detect drug use but then most people caught for DUI drive under the influence of alcohol,” Karjalainen says.
Every year, the police catch about 20,000 drunk drivers and 4,000 drugged drivers.
“However, one must remember that the drivers who get caught are just the tip of the iceberg.”
Prescription drugs also involved
The mixed use of substances is common in DUI offenders who are apprehended by the police. What is surprising is that 76 per cent of the DUI offenders caught in 1977-2007 had benzodiazepines, i.e. legal sedatives or sleeping pills in their bloodstream.
The second most common substance group was amphetamines which were found in 46 per cent of the people who got caught.
These results are from Karjalainen’s PhD dissertation which she completed in 2011. Karjalainen researched driving under the influence of drugs in Finland.
“Benzodiazepines are good and efficient drugs and they are mostly used correctly for medicinal purposes. However, they are also abused in order to get intoxicated and have properties that impair the driving skills.”
Most DUI offenders are men
- Most DUI offenders are men and the share of women is about 10 percent.
- Driving under the influence of alcohol is most common among young and middle-aged men, whereas driving under the influence of drugs is most common in men in their twenties.
- DUI offenders are socially more disadvantaged and less educated when compared with the average Finnish population.
This story was originally published in Finnish in Aikalainen 17/2012
Original text Tiina Lankinen
Photograph Teemu Launis
Translation Laura Tohka