Study Examines Brain Reaction in DUI Repeat Offenders

More than 30 years ago, the public was made aware of a growing crisis on American roads. Too many people were drinking more than their fair share of alcoholic beverages and then getting behind the wheel of a car. In too many situations, the individual did not have the capacity to safely operate the vehicle and the result was a crash that was often deadly. Sadly, the victims in such situations were rarely those who chose to drink and drive.

Policy-makers set out to change the outlook for innocent drivers and passengers by educating the public on the dangers of drinking and driving. Laws were enacted that stipulated harsh punishments for those who decided to drive with blood alcohol content beyond the legal level. Guilty parties were required to spend time in jail, seek alcohol treatment and pay fines.

Even with all this activity going on, certain individuals still chose to drink and drive. What is worse is those individuals who drink and drive, get caught and pay the price, and then choose to commit the crime all over again. While the punishment for repeat offenders is generally designed to be harsher than what is handed to the individual with a first drunken driving arrest, some repeat offenders will always be repeat offenders.

One group of researchers set out to determine why this happens and determined that repeat offenders involved in alcohol-related crashes have subtle deficits in their decision-making abilities that might not be detected through conventional tests. The results of this study were published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Through this process, researchers assessed 34 males who were second-time DUI offenders who happened to be enrolled in a rehabilitation program. A control group contained 31 healthy, non-offenders matched according to their education, age and use of alcohol. Participants in both groups participated in psychiatric assessments and conventional neuropsychological testing, which included the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) to assess patterns in personality.

In the process of this testing, researchers determined that those individuals who had committed a drunken driving offense a second time have a poorer performance on the IGT test than their matched counterparts. At the same time, there were no differences found between the repeat DUI offender and the control group through neuropsychological testing and temperament and character testing.

The results of this study suggest that those who commit a drunken driving offense a second time do not suffer from motor impulsiveness or a lack of impulse control in here and now situations. Instead, these individuals suffer from cognitive impulsiveness, which relies on associating negative experiences with possible consequences. As 33 percent of DUI drivers are repeat offenders, understanding the brain process in making the decision to drink and drive more than once is extremely important.

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