What Happens If You Get a DUI

If you are arrested for drunk driving in any state in the United States, court appearances, fines, and fees are just the beginning. A DUI can take a toll on 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 (often defined by the "legal limit" when applied to alcohol).

In fact, it's pretty common for people to experience depression and anxiety after a first-time DUI. You may also struggle with 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.

Especially for first-time offenders, this can be a frightening experience that can bring on anxiety and panic.

In some states, you can be released immediately if someone comes to jail, pays your bail, and drives you home. In a growing number of states, however, jail terms have become mandatory even for first-time drunk driving offenders. Typically, first-offender jail terms are only one or two days that 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. And again, if there are aggravating circumstances connected with your DUI case, the penalties can be increased.

Appearing in Court

At the time of your arrest, you will be given a ticket or a summons that tells you the date that you have to appear in court to face driving under the influence charges.

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

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 are going to see a video of you failing the field sobriety test taken from the officer's dashboard camera or taken at the jail where you were processed.

Losing Your Driver's License

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

In some states, if you refused 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 while intoxicated, part of your sentence will definitely 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 the 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 will also have to pay the court costs associated with your case.

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.

Regardless of the terms, the probation sentence itself is another expense you will have to pay. Typically, this is a monthly fee you must pay for the cost of administering and supervising your probated sentence.

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, which can help you better understand and remedy your relationship with alcohol.

Paying for Auto Insurance

In most states, if you get a drunk driving conviction, you will have to get 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.

Installing an Ignition Interlock Device

In a growing number of states, drivers who are convicted of DUI are being required to install ignition interlock devices on their personal vehicles. Some states are requiring these devices for even first-time offenders.

The device requires the driver to have 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.

DUI and Your Mental Health

Beyond worrying about the logistics of a DUI, it’s important to take a serious look about why and how this happened. What is it 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:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Major depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

If you survived a drunk-driving crash, you may be at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and symptoms like 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 or mental illness. Seeking counseling (which may be a mandatory part of your DIU) can help you cut back 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.

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3 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.
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