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Drink Driving and Depression

24 August 2016

Anxiety and depression affects nearly one if five UK adults1. Unfortunately, mental health and drink driving fall hand-in-hand. For many, alcohol is a form of medication, helping you feel better for a short period. If you have been charged with drink driving – and think that you might suffer from a mental illness – we can help.

We would estimate that around 40% of all those who contact M.A.J. Law in relation to an allegation of drink driving or failing to provide a specimen will suffer from a mental illness – with depression and anxiety being the most common.

We understand that mental health is a sensitive subject. If you would like to discuss your case in confidence, please call a member of our team on 01514228020. Alternatively, visit our website to request a call-back.


The affects of alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant. This means that it can disrupt the delicate balance of chemicals within the brain. Alcohol can affect parts of the brain that control movement, speech, judgment, and memory. It can even affect your long-term mental health.


Medication and your breath results

Our clients will often tell us that there is no “magic wand” for treating anxiety or depression. You may have been prescribed medication by your doctor.

The most commonly prescribed drugs for anxiety are:

  • Diazepam
  • Valium
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Lorazepam.

The most commonly prescribed drugs for depression are:

  • Prozac
  • Sarafem
  • Sertraline
  • Effexior.

Different drugs can affect alcohol metabolism in different ways. Some drugs may slow down the speed at which alcohol is broken-down, others may increase it. We are often asked whether certain medications can cause ‘false positives’ on breath test machines or falsely elevate the breath readings provided. Let us be clear, medication can affect your breath alcohol concentration, not just by increasing your breath test results, but also by making you appear more intoxicated than you perhaps are.

M.A.J. Law work closely with independent toxicologists, doctors and forensic experts who specialise in considering the affects of medication on alcohol absorption and elimination rates. It is not necessary to show that medication did affect the breath reading, we only have to show that medication may have affected the breath reading. Where doubt exists as to the reliability of the result provided by the breath testing device, the court cannot convict you.


Is my mental illness a defence?


1. Drink Driving

The fact that you suffer from a mental illness does not necessarily mean that you have a defence to an allegation of drink driving, unless we can show that any medication you take affected the breath reading (above).

Drink driving is a ‘strict liability’ offence. This means that the CPS do not have to prove that you intended to drink and drive. This also means, therefore, that the reason you made the decision to drive the vehicle will very rarely be taken into account, even if its well known that a particular medication can adversely affect judgement and the ability to make informed decisions.


2. Failing to provide a specimen (breath, blood or urine)

In a nutshell – yes.

The offence of failing to provide a specimen, contrary to Section 7(6) Road Traffic Act 1988, can only be committed without reasonable excuse. Reasonable excuse is your reason, or excuse, for not providing a sample when required to do so by the procedural officer.

Reasonable excuse can arise from both a medical and ‘mental’ condition. M.A.J. Law have successfully argued this defence for clients who suffer with the following:

  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Alcoholism.

If we can satisfy the court that you had a reasonable excuse for not providing a specimen, the court cannot convict you. To find out whether you have a reasonable excuse defence, please call a member of our team.


Getting help

You should always speak with your GP if you feel down on a regular basis. The evidence from your GP (even a written letter) could form the evidential basis of a defence. If you don’t see your GP, they won’t be able to comment on your condition.


Useful information

If you’re concerned about someone’s drinking, or your own, Drinkline runs a free, confidential helpline – Call 0800 917 8282.

Addaction is a UK wide treatment agency, helping individuals and families manage the effects of drug and alcohol misuse.

Alcohol Concern is national agency on alcohol misuse for England and Wales.

NHS Choices provides advice and information on alcohol and offers a database of support and treatment services.


Worried about court?

M.A.J. Law specialise in defending drink and drug driving cases. Drink driving defences can be complex and confusing, particularly when building in arguments surrounding mental health. You may not be aware that you have a full defence to the allegation against you. We would always advise speaking to a member of our team who can discuss your all your options in detail.

1. Office of National Statistics

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