Department of Medicine

Indiana Alcohol Research Center

What Judges and Policy Makers Should Know about Alcohol

By Linda Chezem, J.D.

A judge who makes decisions informed by science as well as the law and the facts will make better decisions; better decisions promote justice for all.

After 22 years on the Indiana bench, first in Lawrence County, Indiana, at the trial court level, and then on the Indiana Court of Appeals, I left the bench. I left with a sense of hope that by going to a university, I could find the science that would enable the courts to improve the adjudication of cases that involve alcohol and children.

While the justice system has not been able to make much improvement with alcohol-related cases, there is greater hope coming from the alcohol research. The advancement of the alcohol research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is unleashing the potential of science to improve the administration of justice. Alcohol research offers the hope of making important justice system improvements that truly will promote health and justice for all.

This list of eleven points of knowledge could change how justice is done in the U.S. The NIAAA website and the Indiana Alcohol Research Center provide many resources. If any judge cannot find the information to answer his or her questions, they can e-mail a request for assistance to me at Judges are encouraged to seek the answers from the researchers and experts. Judges should have access to evidence-based answers from the research.

Therapeutic Justice: Outshouting the Noise

I just wish that judges knew:

  1. Alcohol affects the whole body, not just the brain.
  2. Alcohol use is across the lifespan. Exposure to prenatal alcohol endangers the safe pregnancy and the child may face a lifetime of disorders known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Use of alcohol by young people presents additional risks. Even as the aging process occurs the risks and benefits of alcohol are not yet adequately understood.
  3. NESARC illuminates the demographics of alcohol use.
  4. NIAAA has identified five kinds of alcohol use disorders.
  5. The Gene x Environment relationships in alcohol use are complex.
  6. Alcohol use disorders are a family disease in terms of both heredity and environment.
  7. Alcohol misuse fuels the justice system.
  8. Judge and lawyers should look at their own alcohol use and have safe access to treatment.
  9. The science of treatment is not simple and it is advancing. Treatment works only if people have access to treatment for their alcohol use disorder.
  10. Judges and lawyers have important policy roles in their communities and states in dealing with alcohol use disorders and ensuring access to justice.
  11. The regulation of alcohol as source of government revenue has created a unique policy environment around the science of alcohol.