Angry & DUI – Should I Call the Police?


Living with Addiction: If you live with someone who drinks or drugs too much, the following scenario should be familiar. The argument begins (as it always does) about mid-way between sobriety and your loved one’s peak inebriation and ends in DUI. It may start because of a missed milestone or unbecoming behavior in public. It may erupt out of nowhere like Old Faithful – from placid to 8,000 unrestrained gallons as you watch in awe. The argument could stem from another broken knickknack, broken promise or shattered dream.


When Inebriated Anger Escalates to Driving Under the Influence…

But the bottom line is that the argument careens out of control (as it only does when drinking or drugs are in the mix). It does not follow any of your therapist’s suggestions to communicate effectively. I hear you say you forgot the school talent show was this afternoon. It makes me feel like you have not prioritized your family obligations. A solution would be for you to mark your f-ing calendar and stop drinking from that bottle you keep in your desk drawer at 10 am! 


And so it goes. It is understandable that these fights get ugly. Your loved one is fueled by guilt, embarrassment, and an addictive substance telling them, It’s not that bad – they will get over it. You are overwhelmed by hurt, anger and disappointment, dumbstruck by the callousness of this person you thought you knew. 


But what happens when your loved one, tired of your “accusations”, grabs the keys to the car. And with a last look over a shoulder says, “I’m outta here!”  What do you do then? Because this person – the parent of your children; the love of your life; the adult child you adore on the best of days is way above the legal limit. Do you have any recourse but to call the police? And is there a way to de-escalate the brawl before the screech of tires?


You pose two questions, but both have to do with legal intervention. Calling the police when someone is driving under the influence is often seen as a “duty to warn”. Not unlike calling social services for child or elderly abuse. One has knowledge of possible and/or imminent danger and takes the responsibility to act on it. The other action, to call police during a brawl, is similar but may have more variables involved. Such as the threat of injury or danger to those involved. These situations could be handled through de-escalation techniques – depending on their severity.  Christine Walkons, MA, LPC, CAADC, CCS-M


The 3 Reasons we Call the Police When a Loved One is Driving Under the Influence:



1. Revenge

For everything your addiction has put us through, me through, I am going to make you pay. (Even if I feel horrible about it later …)

2. Fear

I am genuinely terrified you will kill yourself or others. Driving under the influence has become a regular thing and I am scared you are picking the children up from soccer practice while inebriated. And the liability. We could lose the house!

3. Consequences

I hope that a run-in with the police will finally make you take your substance use disorder seriously. I have not been able to make you see what you are doing to us. Maybe spending the night in jail with a DUI citation will.


De-escalation and the Setting of Boundaries

It would be grand if your loved-one just went to bed (on the pull-out couch in the den, right?) and slept it off. Or if you expressed your feelings without anger and tabled further discussion until the new day dawned. Better still, if your loved one agrees to seek treatment. But since drugs and alcohol bring out the beast in all of us, establishing “house rules” and de-escalation techniques are prudent before the brawl begins.


The WAY something is said can be 5x more important that WHAT is said. Tone of voice, demeanor & projected sincerity are more important than any single phrase that you may use. Remember: Calm is just as contagious as fear or panic. Lieutenant Jeremy Romo, St Louis County Police Department


An ounce of DUI prevention …

The Sanford therapist’s agree: setting boundaries before an argument escalates is worth a “pound of cure”. If you live with addiction or drug and alcohol misuse in the house, establish house rules. Choose a time when your loved one is not under the influence (and you’re not angry) and express your concerns.


Be explicit about what you are not willing to put up with and what will happen if your loved one drives DUI. Make the list crystal-clear without empty threats. Write the rules and ramifications down and be willing to stick to them. If you drive under the influence I will call the police. And while you’re at it, begin the conversation about addiction treatment. Research local options for Outpatient Treatment or classes that focus on addiction education or drug and alcohol misuse.



DUI De-escalation Techniques

Think calm, quiet, sincere and serious. Get help and advice from a professional or family counselor. Attend addiction education classes and Al-Anon meetings. Address the problem with love. And when the door slams open and your loved one staggers in (or grabs their coat and keys and tries to stagger out), be prepared. 


As family members, we may have tried (and failed) to “cure” our child, parent, sibling of their addiction. We may have supported, pulled-away, bailed out, convinced and done everything in our power to alleviate the pain and danger associated with active addiction. For this reason, it’s difficult to accept our role in the problem. It may be easier to turn our backs to the Al-Anon community in fear of blame, shame or guilt. Lynnel Brewster, RN, LPC, LLMFT, CCTP, AcuDetox Specialist


The Inevitable Call to the Police

No one wants to call the police on a loved one. Because the phone call starts a chain of events that involves a police record, a night or nights in jail, associated anger and family/relationship issues; administrative inconvenience, social embarrassment, a legal and financial burden, and even an impact on employment. It’s why we “hope for the best” and avoid addressing the problem.


But if your loved one consistently misuses drugs or alcohol and gets behind the wheel, the problem will not go away. And the alternative to calling the police (whatever the motivation) might jeopardize their life or the lives of others. There are worse things than spending a night in jail.


Police Lights – DUI

I still get a bit nervous when I see police lights in my rear-view mirror, even though I’ve been sober for six years. And as a veteran of the addiction wars, the ones that end in slamming doors and driving under the influence, I am grateful I have nothing to be nervous about these days. (Except maybe the occasional glance at a text message). If you are living with addiction in the house, sometimes calling the police is the only recourse.  But setting boundaries, encouraging your loved one to seek treatment and de-escalating the inevitable arguments are always the best options.


after marilyn head shot bio

Marilyn Spiller is a viral writer, recovery coach, and recovery advocate. She is the Marketing Director at Sanford, responsible for written and creative content, website design, new media, promotions, subscriber outreach, and SEO. Excursions Magazine is a particular source of pride; it serves a wide range of readers, and “excursion” has become part of the company vernacular, describing Sanford’s signature experiential outings for those in treatment. She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction and is Vice President of the Board of JACK Mental Health Advocacy.