Experts: Problem drinking not always easy to detect
While Diane Schuler appeared to have lacked the tale-tell signs of addiction, diagnosing someone with a substance abuse problem isn’t always so clear-cut, psychologists said.Episodic drinkers are less likely to seek out treatment because they function well on a daily basis, he said. Loved ones often don't notice problems until something triggers the person to lose control, which could have been the case with Schuler. “It’s a quick way to escape something negative,” said Kristene Doyle, director of clinical services at the Albert Ellis Institute, an Upper East Side addiction treatment clinic. “I don’t know what was going on in this woman’s life, but something was going on.” The few witnesses who saw Schuler before she drove away from the upstate campground at about 9:30 a.m. -- four hours before the deadly July 26 crash – told officials that she appeared to be fine.
Schuler may have been what professionals call an “episodic drinker.” These people can abstain for months, only to go on dangerous benders when certain situations arise, such as social occasions or highly emotional events.
“We usually think of fall-down drunks,” said Pete Kanaris, the public education coordinator for the New York State Psychological Association. “But there are people who will go a substantial amount of time without drinking, then drink to inebriation.”
Toxicology tests showed that her alcohol impairment level was 0.19, twice the legal limit, and that she had smoked marijuana shortly before the accident, which would have further impaired her abilities. In that condition, Schuler would have lost her focus, judgment and reflexes, said Janie Loveless, communications manager for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “You don’t realize you are taking risks.”