Once you've been convicted of driving under the influence, your life will change in several important ways. First, you'll be saddled with thousands of dollars' worth of fines, legal fees and miscellaneous charges related to the incident. To scrounge up enough money to pay these bills, you'll probably be forced to raid your savings and retirement accounts.
Secondly, you'll probably have to part with your vehicle. Even if it's your first run-in with the law, your driver's license will be suspended for at least six months following your DUI conviction. In some states, the suspension period may last for a year or longer. Unless you have a lot of extra cash sitting around, you may find it beneficial to raise funds by selling your car and buying a cheaper one back once your driving privileges have been reinstated.
Lastly, you'll have to live in the shadow of your conviction for a long time. Depending upon where you live, records of your conviction will remain on your driving record for periods of three to 12 years. It's possible for a judge or other state official to remove any record of the conviction from your driving history through a process known as "expunging." However, this is relatively rare.
In general, your state's court system will treat you as a "prior" or "repeat" offender for as long as the crime remains on your driving record. If you're arrested and convicted of driving under the influence again, your judge will take your prior conviction into account during the sentencing process. Penalties for repeat offenders tend to be harsher than for first-time convicts.
Since most states treat DUIs as both driving infractions and serious crimes, you'll have to worry about the incident lingering on your criminal record as well. The third-party criminal background checks that private employers run before extending offers of employment may show DUI arrests as well as actual convictions. Unless your criminal record has been sealed, any arrests or convictions on it will remain visible to potential employers indefinitely.
The difference between an arrest and a conviction may matter to your future employers. If your DUI case was dismissed in court, your criminal record will note that the charge was dropped and you'll avoid being labeled as a "criminal." Even if your record does reflect a DUI conviction, your state may bar employers from using such information to deny your application.