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My Teen Got a DUI: What Do I Do?

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >


Emotional Health, Criminal Liability, and Future Opportunity

When your teen gets arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it’s a big deal. It’s a very, very, big deal. In some cases, it’s a one-off mistake. Poor decision-making and peer pressure may be the primary factors. In other cases, it’s a clear red flag that indicates the presence of underlying emotional, psychological, or behavioral problems. Therapists and counselors might call an incident as serious as a DUI a cry for help.

[seriesbox]Underage DUI in Arizona: Laws and Consequences

The Consequences of Underage DUI in the State of Washington

I’m Underage – What Happens if I Get A DUI in California?


We’ll address those factors in this article, but in answer to the question posed in the title of this article, the first thing you should do is get a good lawyer.

That won’t address the issues that may have led to the DUI, but it can protect your teenager from many of the more serious consequences of the DUI. Depending on the specific circumstances of the case, a good lawyer can shield your child from the criminal penalties associated with DUI. Lawyers can be very expensive, but when you read about the consequence of DUI below, you’ll understand why we lead with this advice, which is not our typical modus operandi.

We’re more concerned with the emotional and psychological health of your teenager than we are with you spending money to get your teenager out of trouble. However, we’ll repeat this advice, because conviction for underage DUI is a big deal: that’s why you need to do is get a good lawyer.

How big a deal it is varies state by state.

In this article, we’ll review the types of legal consequences you can expect. We’ve also published a series of articles that detail the specific laws in California, Washington, Texas, and Arizona. Before we get to the legal overview, though, we’ll talk about the emotional and psychological health of your teen.

Underage DUI: What Caused the Behavior?

As we mention above, an underage DUI might be the result of one very bad decision by your teen. A big party, peer pressure, the desire to impress, a penchant for thrill seeking, adolescent boundary testing – all those things can contribute to the choice to drive after drinking.

However, we encourage you to consider these potential causes:

  • Alcohol or substance use problems or disorders
  • Behavioral problems or disorders
  • Mental health disorders

If your teen gets a DUI, you need to be realistic in your assessment of the behavior. That means you need to take a whole-person view of the incident, and place it in context. You need to consider all the factors in their life that contribute to a mistake that large. This means an honest evaluation of their emotional, psychological, and behavioral health. Alcohol and drug use can be a symptom of a mental health or behavioral disorder, and vice-versa: a mental health or behavioral disorder can cause a teen to use alcohol or drugs in an attempt to manage thoughts or emotions they don’t know how to handle.

To determine whether these issues led to the DUI, we recommend that you arrange a full psychological/psychiatric assessment of your teen – called a biopsychosocial assessment – administered by a mental health professional.

That’s your second call, after you find a good lawyer.

Now we’ll give you an overview of what can happen, legally speaking, if your teen is convicted of DUI.

Underage DUI: Legal Consequences

In most states, there are two types of penalties: administrative and criminal. Without further ado, we’ll jump straight into those.

Common Types of DUI Penalties for Underage Drivers

Underage drivers arrested and/or convicted for DUI in most states face:

  • Administrative penalties. These may include:
    • Suspension/revocation of license
    • Fines
      • From $500 – $2,500
    • Fees related to any mandated actions:
      • Driving safety classes
      • Alcohol/drug awareness classes
      • Interlock Ignition Devices
      • Additional/special insurance
      • License reinstatement
    • Criminal penalties. These may include:
      • Jail time
        • In some cases, time in adult jail rather than juvenile detention
      • Probation
        • Length depends on the state and the discretion of the judge
      • Community service hours
      • Violation of probation typically triggers additional penalties
    • Additional Related Charges. These may include:
      • Possession of alcohol by a minor
      • Solicitation of alcohol (asking an adult to buy alcohol)
      • Possession or use of false identification (may include identity theft charges)
      • Traffic violations committed while driving under the influence

The details of each DUI conviction affect the severity of the penalties. For instance, many states increase administrative and criminal penalties if other people were in the car at the time of arrest. These penalties increase if those people were underage. They become severe if anyone was injured or killed, including other drivers involved in any DUI related accident. All categories of penalties increase in severity for each additional DUI conviction.

Underage DUI: Additional Consequences

Those aren’t the only consequences. Conviction for DUI may affect present and future:

  • Scholarship/grant opportunities
  • Employment opportunities
  • College admissions
  • Membership/participation in school clubs, sports, or other extracurricular activities

You may also want to consider the consequences that affect day-to-day-living, such as transportation to and from school, activities, and probation appointments or mandated traffic classes or alcohol and drug awareness courses. These details can present real problems – and your teen can’t skip something mandated by a judge. Failure to comply makes things worse.

Handling Your Emotions

There’s a 99.99% chance you will be furious at your teen if they get a DUI. We encourage you to let your teen know how you feel. However, trust us: if they end up handcuffed in the back of a police car, there’s also a 99.99% chance they’ll be as scared as you are angry. We encourage you to express your emotion in a way that won’t cause emotional harm or exacerbate any emotional problems. Decide on the family and home consequences – lack of privileges, being grounded, no phone, no computer – after everyone’s emotions cool down.

Have that talk when you’re not furious and when your teen is no longer scared – but you do need to have that talk.

Your goal is to prevent any further behavior like drinking and driving, which means your teen needs to have the tools to make life-affirming choices moving forward. We know from experience that teens are more likely to make those choices when they live an in environment filled with love, empathy, and understanding.

This will test you, and this will test your teen – but we know you can meet and overcome this type of incident and move forward and a manner that serves the best interests of your entire family.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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