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DUI arrests ring in New Year

There's probably no worse way to ring in the new year than with a DUI, and arrests typically pick up this time of year, according to local law enforcement.

"You start to notice it around the holidays," said Lt. Thomas Dubovi of the state police in East Franklin. "After all the Christmas parties, there are also lots of football games which can lead to heavy drinking. But New Year's Eve can be especially bad because there are those people who think it's the one night a year they can overindulge -- and they very often don't have much experience with it."

David Hartman, chief probation officer for Armstrong County, said although he didn't have arrest statistics specific to the holiday season, he believes it's safe to assume DUI numbers go up.

"There's probably a slight increase this time of year," he said. "But DUIs are a year-round problem for individuals. There probably are more arrests around the holidays, but I don't know that it's that significant."

In fact, Dubovi said it's a common misconception that New Year's Eve is the worst night of the year for drunken driving.

"It's really almost any holiday," he said. "From the Fourth of July to Halloween -- which is becoming a big drinking weekend."

District Justice Gary DeComo said state and local police have been making big strides in DUI arrests not just around the holidays, but all year.

"There's been a concentrated effort by the police to crack down on drunken driving throughout the year," he said. "I think with the road checks they do periodically, they're doing an outstanding job."

He also warns that a DUI charge can be costly, even for someone with a clean record.

"It depends upon the alcohol content (of the driver)," he said. "But most first-time offenders may end up with around a year's probation and a fine. But a big problem is that their insurance rates also go up. I've heard that a DUI can cost between $8,000 and $10,000 between court costs, legal representation and the rise in insurance rates."

Dubovi said the best way to avoid those consequences is simply not to drive if you drink.

"Designating a driver is about the safest thing you can do," he said. "Not just for you, but for everyone else on the roads. And we're going to be out there, no matter how bad the weather."

A difficult time

The holiday season can be a particularly difficult time for those struggling with addiction.

Mike Watterson, clinical director at ARC Manor in Kittanning, said New Year's Eve presents its own obstacles to those battling alcoholism.

"It can be a high-risk time for recovering alcoholics," he said. "Drinking is kind of the standard in a lot of different ways for celebrating the new year, and trying to do that in a sober way can be a challenge."

If you find yourself struggling to maintain your sobriety this weekend, Waterson said, there are several things you can do.

"Definitely go to a 12-step meeting in your area," he said. "There will be a lot of support there. If you can't do that, surround yourself with positive, supportive people in your life. There are also hotlines you can call — like our own 24-hour service at 1-800-323-1333."

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