Guilt makes women drive drunk (again)

U. NOTTINGHAM (UK) — Rehab programs that force female drunk drivers to face the consequences of their crime can intensify feelings of guilt and shame, leading them to drink and increasing the likelihood they will re-offend.

Researchers reviewed 26 previous studies from around the world to gather evidence that could inform the future development of interventions for alcohol-related offending by women and centered on whether there are differences between men and women who break the law after drinking.

They found that females who drink and drive tend to be older, well educated and divorced, widowed or separated, research shows. Emotional factors and mental health problems were often triggers for the alcohol-related offenses, according to the findings.

In a paper to be published in Clinical Psychology Review, researchers call for more effective treatment programs specifically tailored to women.

“The profile of women drink-driving offenders is of being divorced, widowed, or separated and having fewer previous convictions than their male counterparts. Thus, it may be that these women are distressed by their situation and are turning to drink for solace,” says study leader Mary McMurran, a professor at the University of Nottingham.

“Treatment programs that induce negative emotions may actually increase emotional distress, which may increase drinking and, in turn, increase the likelihood of alcohol-related offending.”

Other key findings

  • Overall women were less likely to drink and drive than men and less likely to be repeat offenders.
  • Fewer women drunk-drivers had previously been arrested for public drunkenness and other alcohol-related offenses.
  • Women drunk-drivers were older than men, better educated but had a lower income.
  • Female drunk-driving offenders were more likely than men to be separated, divorced, or widowed, whereas men were more likely to be married or single.
  • Women who got behind the wheel drunk were more likely to have parents and partners who abused alcohol and themselves had a greater history of mental health problems.

Only six studies investigated gender differences in other types of offenses, demonstrating that while women are overall less likely to offend than men, drinking tends to increase the likelihood of offending in both sexes.

Drinking also increases the likelihood of violent offending more than other types of offenses and the risk of violence after drinking is higher in both men and women. Again, there is evidence that women offenders with alcohol problems have more psychological problems than men. Using drugs in combination with alcohol may also be an issue for women alcohol abusing offenders.

The researchers found only four studies that evaluated treatments specifically designed for women whose offending was linked to alcohol, meaning there was not enough evidence to answer the question of what treatment works most effectively.

However, there was strong evidence to show which approach did not work. A study in New Mexico showed that putting female offenders before a panel of people made up of those who have been seriously injured or whose loved ones have been killed in a crash in a collision with a drunk-driver to hear about how it has affected their lives actually increased the risk of re-offending.

Another American study documented high-risk female offenders who were given a “life activities” interview as part of their treatment focusing on life adjustment, occupational, and financial status. Again, this resulted in a greater rate of offending than those who did not—44 percent as opposed to 24 percent.

“Programs designed specifically for women whose offenses are alcohol related need to be designed and evaluated. While these may draw on those programs designed for men, greater attention to broader psychological health issues is needed as these may affect the success of the intervention,” says McMurran.

“The information contained in this review may help inform the future development and design of treatment programs for this neglected group of offenders.”

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