The 7 Emotional Stages of DUI


Your initial reaction to being charged with a DUI is normally one of numbed disbelief.  You may deny the reality of the situation at some level, in order to hide yourself from the reality.  This is a normal reaction and for many people, a DUI is their first real run-in with the law.  Being arrested and branded a criminal by the police can be a very emotional experience and shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once.  This feeling of shock may last for hours, days or even weeks.


As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of emotional pain.  Although it can be excruciating and almost unbearable, this is something that you will survive.  No one has ever died from a DUI arrest alone.

You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn’t do or should have done.  These feelings can be compounded through the “name and shame” tactics that some states use to deal with DUI offenders.  Most states reveal the names and mug shots of criminals, including drivers convicted of DUI.  Other states require drivers convicted of DUI to attend Victim Impact panels to answer questions from people who have been harmed, or have had loved ones harmed, by drivers who were under the influence.  These tactics are specially designed to increase feelings of shame and guilt in someone who has been convicted of DUI.

Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase, but remember that things will get better.


After guilt wears off, it is common for anger to set in.  Feelings of anger can be triggered in many ways.  Perhaps you read a police report or the affidavit of probable cause that is in total opposition to your firm memory and conclude that the Officer is lying.  Perhaps things have gotten stressful at home, especially if you were the primary driver and now have a suspended driver’s license.  You may fell like lashing out and lay unwarranted blame elsewhere such as close loved ones.  Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result.  It is healthy and normal to release pent-up emotions, but it must be done in a constructive way.

You may rail against fate, questioning “Why me?”  You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair (“I will never drink again if you just make it go away”).


Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection could possibly overtake you. This is a normal stage, so do not be “talked out of it” by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving.

During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of the consequences of a DUI conviction and this depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did or didn’t do, and focus on the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.  While a DUI charge is a serious matter, you should not allow it to ruin your life.

It can be very helpful to have somebody to talk to who will listen and understand what you are going through.  A close friend, professional therapist, or an experienced DUI attorney can all be good people to talk to.  Knowing you have an experienced DUI attorney on your side can also help you feel like you are retaking control of your life.


As you start to adjust to life, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized.  Your physical symptoms lessen, and your “depression” begins to lift slightly.  Unfortunately, court may come around and cause past negative feelings to flare up again.  Remember that you have people on your side and that you will get through this.  It is important to keep your positive forward momentum and not slide backwards into grief or depression again.


As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by this situation.  You will start to work on the practical and financial problems of reconstructing yourself and your life.  At this point, you may have gone through sentencing and already know what the court will require from you.  You now have an end game and stated goal of minimizing or eliminating the consequences of your DUI experience.


During this, the last of the seven stages in this model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your DUI arrest. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness, release, or “giving up”. Given the totality of the circumstances you have experienced, you may feel that you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this event.  But you will find a way forward.  Hopefully the events of the past several months have given you a new perspective on life that will guide you through the rest of your life.

You will find hope.  That hope comes with finding and trusting the highest skilled professional and technically sound attorney available who has the ability, the reputation, the knowledge and the experience to help minimize or eliminate the consequences of a DUI.  If you or a loved one has been charged with a DUI in the Phoenix area, call Oracle Law Group Office at (480) 704-0777 for a free consultation.  Our Arizona DUI attorneys are experienced and compassionate.  At Oracle Law Group Office, we listen, we care, and we want to help you through this difficult time.