Groundbreaking Research on DUI Offenders

While small in number, chronic drinking drivers are responsible for most of the harm caused by drunk driving in this country.  New discoveries point to approaches that could help these offenders change their behaviour.

The Most Effective Interventions

One pilot study looked at two types of intervention intended to reduce problematic drinking among 51 offenders convicted for driving under the influence (DUI). The impact of an ultra-brief 20 minute intervention approach, called Motivational Interviewing (MI), was compared to that of an information control condition which provided general statistics and information about the risks of DUI. Participants were randomly assigned to one of these interventions. The main outcome measures were percentage of days when hazardous drinking occurred (six or more standard drinks in a day), scores on a questionnaire of negative consequences related to excessive drinking, and participants’ use of health services.

Follow-up interviews were conducted three and six months after intervention. Results at six months follow-up indicated that exposure to MI resulted in a significantly greater reduction in hazardous drinking and fewer visits to health professionals.

These results suggest that brief, low cost interventions like MI could have benefits when provided at “golden moments” of opportunity, such as at the time of a court appearance or driving fitness evaluation of a convicted DUI offender. This is important because DUI offenders are notorious for re-offending and not participating in sanctioned remedial programs following their conviction. A larger study is now underway to more thoroughly test the potential of MI in this population.

Why Some Re-Offend, Others Don’t

Another study, whose results will be published in an upcoming edition of Alcohol and Alcoholism, focused on understanding why some individuals are at higher risk for DUI offending than others. The ARP team consisted of experimental and neurocognitive psychologists, neurobiologists, and endocrinologists. They posed the question: other than excessive alcohol drinking, what other factors could explain why some individuals repeatedly drink and drive, while others do not?

Approximately 200 individuals with from one to eight DUI convictions were invited to the ARP laboratory for six hours of testing and evaluation. Along with questionnaires probing drinking and drug use habits, information was gathered about health, psychosocial adjustment, family background, memory and mental functioning. Moreover, blood, urine and salivary samples were collected to test for signs of alcohol and drug use, as well as distinct measures of biologically and genetically determined brain activity.

This unprecedented multidisciplinary study reveals that individuals who are repeatedly arrested for drinking and driving may possess markers of a more biologically or genetically based form of drinking. This may be harder to control by the usual intervention methods than other forms of drinking. If this finding is supported by further study, it would suggest that some individuals might benefit from specially tailored intervention approaches that take this factor into account. 

Thomas G. Brown, Ph.D.
Director, Addiction Research Program
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Psychiatry
Douglas Hospital Research Center/McGill University

The Addiction Research Program (ARP), a research partnership between the Douglas Hospital Research Center, Pavillon Foster Addiction Treatment Center and McGill University in Montreal, has turned its gaze to the problem of drunk driving. A series of studies are supported by the Quebec Ministry of Transport, Société d’assurance automobile du Québec (Quebec Automobile Insurance and Licensing Board), Fond québécois de la recherche sur la société et culture, the Canadian Psychiatric Association Foundation and the Canada Safety Council.  Preliminary findings are now starting to emerge from these initiatives and are being reviewed for publication in scientific journals.