What Happens When You Get a DUI

What happens when you get a DUI (an arrest and conviction for drunk driving) depends on what state you live in. But court appearances, fines, and fees are likely. Getting a DUI can also result in negative consequences for your relationships, job, social life, finances, and mental health.

What Is a DUI?

DUI is an acronym that stands for "driving under the influence." Driving under the influence is the offense of driving or operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or another drug to an extent that makes operating the vehicle unsafe. When applied to alcohol, DUI is often defined by the state's "legal limit," which is typically a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08%. This offense may also be called OUI (operating under the influence) or DWI (driving while impaired).

It's pretty common for people to experience depression and anxiety after a first-time DUI. But getting a DUI may result in a host of emotions—including sadness, anger, guilt, and shame. Here we take a look at what happens when you get a DUI and what you need to know to ensure you get the help you need.

What happens if you get caught drunk driving
Verywell / JR Bee

Being Arrested

If you are arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, you will be placed into a police vehicle and taken to the nearest police station or jail, where you'll be photographed and fingerprinted. This can be a frightening experience that can bring on anxiety and panic, especially for first-time offenders.

In some states, you can be released immediately if someone comes to jail, pays your bail, and drives you home. Other times, you may have to stay in jail until you can see a judge, who decides when you can be released.

Appearing in Court

Another thing that happens when you get a DUI is that you will be given a ticket or a summons at the time of your arrest. This tells you the date that you must appear in court to face driving under the influence charges.

In today's courts, if you deny the charges, plead not guilty, and try to fight the case, chances are you (and everyone else in the courtroom) will see a video of you failing field sobriety tests. This footage can be taken from the officer's dashboard camera or from the jail where you were processed.

For some drivers, it feels humiliating to have to appear in public to answer charges of driving drunk.

Losing Your Driver's License

In all states, your sentence will include the loss of driving privileges for a period of time, even for a first-time DUI conviction. Some states offer a hardship license that allows you to drive to work or school during the time your license is revoked or suspended, but your driving privileges will still be drastically curtailed.

In some states, if you refuse to take the field sobriety test or submit to a breathalyzer or blood test, your driver's license is suspended immediately, even before you go to court.

In addition to the guilt and shame you may be feeling, a suspended license may make you feel like a burden as you may have no choice but to lean on friends and loved ones to get from one place to another.

Paying Fines

If you are convicted of driving under the influence, part of your sentence will include paying a fine. All states have laws setting minimum and maximum fines for drunk driving, but those penalties can be enhanced by other circumstances.

For example, if property was damaged, someone was injured, or a child was endangered as a result of your driving while drunk, the fines can be increased. In most states, you also have to pay court costs associated with your case.

Examples of DUI Fines by State
 State Minimum DUI Fines   Maximum DUI Fines
California $1,400  $2,600
Florida $500 $2,000
Kentucky $600 $2,100
New York $500 $1,000
Wisconsin $150 $300

Serving Probation

Even if you are not sentenced to any jail time for your DUI conviction, you will probably be given a probation sentence, the terms of which are determined by the sentencing judge. If you fail to meet the terms of probation, you can be sent to jail.

The length of probation varies by state. For instance, when you get a DUI in Florida, probation cannot extend beyond one year. Probation terms can change as well and may be more stringent if arrested for aggravated or felony DUI.

How Many DUIs Is a Felony?

The number of DUI convictions needed to turn this offense into a felony varies by state. For instance, if you've had a DUI offense within the past ten years, a second offense is a felony in New York and Oklahoma. However, a DUI doesn't become a felony until the third DUI conviction in Arizona, Nevada, and Massachusetts.

Regardless of the terms, getting a DUI results in another added expense associated with the probation sentence. Typically, this is a monthly fee that you pay to cover the cost of administering and supervising your sentence.

Serving Jail Time

In a growing number of states, jail terms have become mandatory, even for first-time drunk driving offenders. Typically, first-offender jail terms are one or two days in length and can be served on a weekend. But it is still jail time, which carries consequences—including consequences for your mental health.

For repeat offenders, jail is mandatory in most states and the terms are longer than a couple of days. If there are aggravating circumstances connected with your DUI case, such as having prior convictions, the DUI may be a felony versus a misdemeanor, which means that penalties such as jail time can be increased.

Undergoing Alcohol Evaluation

In almost all jurisdictions, if you want your driving privileges returned after a drunk driving conviction, you will have to complete an alcohol and drug education and assessment program.

A trained counselor will evaluate your pattern of alcohol consumption to determine if you have an alcohol use disorder. Typically, the evaluator will ask you a series of questions about how alcohol affects your life.

Depending on the results of your evaluation, you may then be required to attend a court-approved alcohol treatment program. This program can help you better understand and remedy your relationship with alcohol.

Paying More for Auto Insurance

In most states, getting a DUI can result in needing a special insurance policy, known as SR-22 insurance, before you can drive a vehicle. The cost of SR-22 insurance, in states where it is required, can double or even triple your premiums.

Usually, you will be required to carry this type of auto insurance for a period of three years. although the DUI can stay on your record for life.

Using an Ignition Interlock Device

What happens when you get a DUI and own a vehicle? In a growing number of states, drivers who are convicted of DUI are required to install ignition interlock devices on their personal vehicles. Some states are requiring these devices for first-time offenders as well.

The ignition interlock device requires the driver to have an alcohol-free breath test result before the vehicle will start. The installation of these devices and the monthly fees associated with them can be very costly.

Experiencing Mental Health Challenges

Beyond worrying about the logistics of a DUI, it’s important to take a serious look at why and how this happened. Was driving drunk a one-time incident, or just the first time you got caught?

Many people charged with a DUI have also been diagnosed with one or more of the following mental illnesses:

If you survived a drunk-driving crash, you may be at risk for PTSD and experience symptoms including nightmares, emotional numbness, difficulty sleeping, concentration issues, jumpiness, irritability, and hostility.

There’s no shame in getting help if you think you have a problem with alcohol, mental illness, or both. Seeking counseling (which may be a mandatory part of your DUI sentence) can help you cut back on or quit drinking and offer strategies for coping with the emotional trauma that can accompany a DUI.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

What happens when you get a DUI varies by state but often includes fines, probation, license restrictions, and some amount of jail time. All these penalties can be enhanced if the DUI is aggravated or otherwise elevated to felony status.

Getting a DUI may also result in emotional consequences such as depression or PTSD, which affects your mental health. Seeking help for alcohol addiction can be a good first step to not just resolving any existing issue with alcohol, but also to show the court that you take your DUI seriously—and that you'll do what it takes to not drive drunk again.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ying Y, Wu C, Chang K. The effectiveness of drinking and driving policies for different alcohol-related fatalities: A quantile regression analysisInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2013;10(10):4628-4644. doi:10.3390/ijerph10104628

  2. Mothers Against Drunk Driving. DUI felony laws.

  3. Karjalainen K, Lintonen T, Joukamaa M, Lillsunde P. Mental disorders associated with driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs: A register-based study. Eur Addict Res. 2013;19(3):113-20. doi:10.1159/000342569

  4. Peller AJ, Najavits LM, Nelson SE, Labrie RA, Shaffer HJ. PTSD among a treatment sample of repeat DUI offenders. J Trauma Stress. 2010;23(4):468-73. doi:10.1002/jts.20550

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.