EXPERT WITNESS: What if your client doesn't go to AA?

By Michael G. Brock

If your client doesn't go to AA, does he have a chance of getting his license back? If he has two or more OUILs it is an uphill battle, as any attorney knows, requiring clear and convincing evidence that he has been clean and sober from alcohol, illicit drugs and abuse of any prescription drugs for at least a year (or 5 years if he's had three convictions). Moreover, the burden of proof is on the client, and how does he prove that he is doing what is necessary in his particular case if he is not attending AA or NA, getting attendance slipped signed, learning the 12-step catch phrases and establishing a sober support network and social environment?

It can be difficult. On the other hand, if your client has been sober a number of years though church or family support, or the therapeutic value of jail or prison, or he just got tired of banging his head again the wall, doing the same behaviors and expecting different results, is it really prudent to advise him to begin attending AA meetings just so he can look good to the hearing officer?

What would you think if you were the hearing officer? I'd think that somebody believes he can put something over on me by attending a few AA meeting and trying to make me believe that he is a real member. I'd ask him a lot of questions about why he is going to AA, what he is doing to work step 8, who Bill W. and Dr. Bob are and if he knows the Serenity Prayer. I'd make him look stupid, and then tell him to come back in a year and try again. And they do.

Of course, if this is what an attorney advises his client, far be it from me to contradict his legal advice. But if an unrepresented client comes to me for an evaluation and asks if he should start going to AA, I respond by asking him how he has remained abstinent for the past five years. I ask him to spell it out for me in some detail. If he's really sober he'll be able to describe a lifestyle change, and he'll express spontaneous gratitude for how much better his life is since he quit drinking and/or doing drugs.

He'll be able to tell me how he has regained the love, respect and affection of his family, friends, significant other, etc, how his work life has improved, what sober activities he is involved in, like working out at the gym, running marathons, attending all his kids' sporting events and coaching the little league team, and how he is so much better off economically, despite the recession the wealthier Americans are coming out of, but which goes on forever and keeps getting deeper for average working-class folks.

If he's not in AA he might be inclined to downplay his drinking and/or drug use and I might ask him how he got four OUILs and a Domestic Violence if he really wasn't addicted to substances, and why he had to stop entirely rather than just moderate his use. I tell him that if he is honest about it, nobody is going to hold his past substance abuse against him, but if he is in denial of the seriousness of his problem, he is at risk to repeat those behaviors and that has to be a concern for anyone entrusted with safeguarding the public roadways.

I happen to be a big believer in AA. When someone comes to me from the courts and says they make him go to AA and those people are all losers who go out and drink after the meetings, I know that if he is telling the truth he is seeking out the losers, but that if he ever gets serious he will find the winners. If he does what they say his chances of recovering from addiction and returning to a productive life are excellent.

But I also know that, for a variety of reasons, not everyone connects with AA. One reason may be that AA is essentially more effective for low-bottom drunks. People who haven't bounced in and out of treatment centers or sold their body for a rock of cocaine are often shocked by people who have, and while they learn from these cautionary tales, they may not relate.

However, it often surprises me how many people recover from abuse/addiction to substances without 12-step help. Frequently, they are people without the serious psychopathology that accompanies advanced addiction and often makes continued involvement in the support group a necessary condition for permanent sobriety/abstinence. It also surprises me to see so many people with so much to recover for who are unable to do so, but as the AAs tell me (and experience verifies); they are often people who are "constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves" about their condition.

The common denominators I've found in people who recover from addiction are this self-honesty, and the ability to make the effort to do what is necessary in their particular case on a day-to-day basis to sustain recovery. There can be no days off. But those who make the necessary effort experience an elevated consciousness and genuinely come to believe that they and everyone they care about are better of if they remain substance free. Someone who has that higher level of consciousness can convey it, and it's best to let them do it in their own way.

Hearing officers are lawyers. They are bright, they know their stuff, and they have a nose for B.S. and an ear for the truth. By and large they are fair. They strike a balance between compassionately allowing recovered people to regain their driving privileges and keeping the streets safe from drunk drivers who are likely to re-offend. The story of recover most likely to move them is the truth.

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Michael G. Brock, MA, LLP, LMSW, is a forensic mental health professional in private practice at Counseling and Evaluation Services in Wyandotte, Michigan. He has worked in the mental health field since 1974, and has been in full-time private practice since 1985. The majority of his practice in recent years relates to driver license restoration and substance abuse evaluation. He may be contacted at Michael G. Brock, Counseling and Evaluation Services, 2514 Biddle, Wyandotte, 48192; (313) 802-0863, fax/phone (734) 692-1082; e-mail, michaelgbrock@ comcast.net; website, michaelgbrock.com.

Published: Wed, Aug 21, 2013

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