Archive for April 22nd, 2007

The DUI Problem

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

I think it is clear by now to most rational individuals that the so-called “War on Drunk Driving” has proven an abject failure.  The statistical evidence is certainly clear:  despite MADD’s hysterical approach to the problem and ever-harsher penalties, the incidence of alcohol-related fatalities has remained fairly constant for the past ten years (see my earlier post “The Insanity of DUI Laws”). 

The following is from an article in the April 2007 issue of Scientific American:

Seeking the Connections: Alcoholism and Our Genes

The tendency to become dependent on alcohol has long been known to run in families, which for some only added to the social stigma attached to this complicated condition. But to scientists, that apparent heritability suggested that some genetic component underlying vulnerability to alcohol problems was being transmitted from generation to generation.

With rapid advances over the past 10 years in technologies for discovering and analyzing the functions of genes, researchers are now increasingly able to get at the biological roots of complex disorders such as substance abuse and addiction. The power to examine patterns of inheritance in large populations, and to survey hundreds of thousands of tiny variations in the genomes of each of those individuals, enables investigators to pinpoint specific genes that exert strong or subtle influences on a person’s physiology and his or her resulting risk for disease.

As is true of many other human disorders, alcoholism does not have a single cause, nor is its origin entirely genetic. Genes can play an important role, however, by affecting processes in the body and brain that interact with one another and with an individual’s life experiences to produce protection or susceptibility. Teasing these effects apart is challenging, and to date fewer than a dozen genes that influence one’s risk for alcoholism have been identified, although more surely exist…

This is not new information.  In a book I wrote while teaching at law school over 20 years ago, Born to Crime: The Genetic Causes of Criminal Behavior (London:  Greenwood Press), an entire chapter was devoted to the extensive research which had clearly established a genetic  component to alcoholism.  Obviously, subsequent research has only confirmed those findings.

All of which raises the question I’ve posed repeatedly in the past.  Clearly, a disproportionately large percentage of alcohol-related fatalities are caused by a small percentage of those arrested for DUI: the “problem drinkers”, usually identifiable by high blood-alcohol levels and prior convictions.  If so, does it make sense to use a behavior modification model (jail, fines, DUI schools, etc.) in dealing with a problem which is largely genetic in origin?  Or is it time to consider a new approach?

For past discussions of the issue, see Not Guilty by Reason of Alcoholism?”, Are Alcoholics Protected by the ADA in DUI Cases?”, Alcohol and Race” and Time for a Change”.

(Thanks to Troy V. Huser for the Scientific American article.)