DUI and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

by LaGeris on July 11, 2013

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The term “driving under the influence” is usually associated with liquor-induced recklessness, and to be sure, driving under the influence is irresponsible behavior, but DUI is not always the result of drinking and partying. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, has emerged as a primary component in many instances of impaired driving among military veterans, and the link is finally being recognized and addressed by the court system. PTSD is not offered as an excuse for unacceptable behavior, but it is part of the emotional and psychological breakdown associated with some impulsive behaviors.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? 

PTSD is most common among war veterans who have witnessed tragedies and atrocities on the battlefield. The range of experiences resulting in PTSD is wide and varied, as it cuts across all ranks in the military. Experiences in the heat of battle can alter the normal fight-or-flight reflex with which we are born, and compel the person to fight or it may render him paralyzed with fear when there is no threat.

PTSD may manifest as a form of depression. It closely resembles manic depression because it can trigger wide emotional swings among patients. The essence of the disorder, regardless of cause, is the mental inability to block recurring memories of horrific events in the individual’s life.

Many veterans who suffer from PTSD have also suffered serious injury and many times the injury includes the cranial area. Called post-concussion stress disorder, a concussion in the frontal lobe of the brain can result in erratic behavior because that is the area of the brain which controls all cognitive decisions and the physiological manifestations of those decisions.
Non-military Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 

This disorder can also occur in the general population. Victims of assault, rape, and other crimes; survivors of natural disasters like tornadoes and earthquakes, and people injured in automobile accidents all may be so devastated by these life events that they develop PTSD. Equally ironic and tragic is the fact that victims of drunk driving accidents often develop PTSD themselves in response to the drunk driving accident.

In victims suffering personal injuries which cause post-concussion stress disorder, behavior patterns may be similar to those of PTSD victims, and they are often unable to recall important personal milestones and other special events.

Driving Under The Influence With PTSD 

The impulse to self-medicate is strong for those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and can easily lead to over-medication and the use of illegal or controlled substances. But there’s a difference between a typical intoxicated driver and one suffering PTSD, and that difference is a severely impaired ability to think rationally. Not to be too simplistic, for the typical drunk driver, their behavior is the result of poor decision-making. For the PTSD patient, their drunk driving is usually compulsive behavior triggered by their altered fight-or-flight reflex. Their need to escape is a symptom of their disorder. They are not making a poor decision, they are reacting to a heightened emotional response.

A person suffering from PTSD who has been charged with driving under the influence should reveal the disorder in court so that it becomes a part of the case record. Even if the disorder is subsequently deemed immaterial, a diagnosis by a medical specialist should still be sought. His diagnosis may mitigate the permanent criminal record. Having an experienced and effective legal representative like Katz & Phillips may help frame the case to the court in a manner that can result in the patient receiving adequate mental health treatment, and minimize the adjudication of the conviction for driving under the influence.

LaGeris Underwood Bell writes this article in the hope that a better understanding of PTSD may help those who suffer with the disorder. The legal team at Florida’s Katz & Phillips, P.A. firm provides guidance and legal insight for a winning case for those PTSD sufferers in need of strong legal counsel.






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