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Dr. Drew: Pointed questions on 'wet houses'
Men drink outside of St Anthony Residence, a wet house in St. Paul, Minnesota.
May 11th, 2011
11:07 AM ET

Dr. Drew: Pointed questions on 'wet houses'

Editor's note: “Dr. Drew” dives into the debate around “wet houses,” where chronic alcoholics are allowed to drink, 9 p.m. ET Wednesday on HLN.

I have no problem, in principle, with wet houses - essentially, places where alcoholics can drink until they die. I have no problem with them for some people. I wouldn’t want anyone I love to live in one. But I don’t want to take away someone’s right to a dignified death even if it’s because of a treatable condition like alcoholism.

Let’s face it. There are some cases that just can’t be treated: those with such severe brain damage, there’s no chance of meaningful life, and those with irreversible liver damage who do not meet criteria for transplantation

Still, I have some questions and you should too before a “wet house” becomes an option, or last resort.

What exactly are these places? What are their goals? Are they harm-avoidance centers or hospices? The people running these places have to be clear about they are doing.

I want to know if they are actually doing more harm than good. What motivates most people to change their behavior is consequences. No consequences? No behavior modification.

Some have observed that alcoholics who are allowed to drink more may actually drink less. But if wet houses are end-of-the-line outposts, why would that even matter?

Treatment of alcohol addiction can take many forms. Is any treatment at all being offered? And if there is - beyond comfort measures– then that’s not the hospice philosophy of care. It seems to me that these organizations sometimes use terminology that suggests this is a harm-avoidance option. But this, too, is a treatment, not hospice.

Another thing to think about: Who determines who lives in a wet house? I don’t believe just anyone should decide. Professional assessment is essential. And perhaps that’s being done.

If wet houses provide safety, comfort and some measure of respect for those with a serious illness, they may be the best choice for some.

I don’t know, yet. I’d like answers to the few questions I’ve posed here, and several others, before deciding. I’m open to any discussion about the wet house concept. We can all make better decisions when we’re informed.

We’ll be talking about wet houses on Wednesday’s “Dr. Drew." It airs on HLN at 9 p.m. ET. Until then, I’m keeping an open mind and looking forward to starting the dialogue.


soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. dasboot

    drink up!

    May 11, 2011 at 12:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dustin Carr

      Dr. Drew seems to be a very intelligent person...unlike Grace, who belongs on Fox news, and is very annoying. Alcoholism is an addiction, but how do you treat it? 12 steppin' is a joke, guy that wrote a book about aliens wrote the same book on treating addiction? There is no understanding of the term "addiction", just like there is no understanding of the term "doctor"...

      ...our world is a morally inconstructive , "take this pill, it will help you?". Scientifically, no evidence". Nor will there ever be, but he can continue to remain on TV, because we're stupid, and we will remain stupid...God Bless....

      May 12, 2011 at 11:21 | Report abuse |
  2. Brea

    Define "severe" brain damage. I have a friend, a member of AA, who had 6 years sober before acquiring brain damage. After years of recovery he now lives in his own apartment, pays his own bills (on SSI), does his own grocery shopping, and can hold an intelligent conversation, etc. He still has so much to offer, a little bit more each day. However, he uses his brain damage( he has a speech disorder now, he has to wear a brace on his left leg.,etc) (while he is at least "dry" still) as an excuse to not get the full "spiritual" benefits of AA. He claims his brain damage has left him unable to get to a truly happy and "sober" place.(He is trying and might one day) He doesn't drink but he feels hopeless alot. At any rate, he has done amazing for even having "brain" damage. So I wouldn't be so quick to write off people (in regard to recovery from Alcohol) even with serious brain damage, because his was. Thank you.

    May 11, 2011 at 13:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lars Babaganoosh

      Technically if he is on SSI he doesn't pay his own bills, the rest of us clean, sober, working folk do. He's no different than those at tax payer funded wet houses, he just gets a larger tax-funded check each month. Cut him off from that SSI and he'll be right back to where he was.

      May 11, 2011 at 15:44 | Report abuse |
  3. Hank

    Alcoholism isn't usually caused by drinking alcohol; it's caused by the pain that results from self-loathing, which, in turn, is caused by being told that one is a worthless trog so often that one internalizes this concept and believes that it is true, thus making it true. The alcohol is merely a self-administered anesthetic. The wet house gives self-loathing individuals the time and the silence to think about the validity and veracity of the claim that they are worthless trogs. Should this claim be overthrown, the individual will be set free to reclaim ownership of their lives and end their alcoholism. And, then there are the doubters, Lord love us all!

    May 11, 2011 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lars Babaganoosh

      Pretty sure that alcohol is the source of the alcoholism there buddy. Maybe you know something I don't but I've never met an alcoholic who didn't drink booze. I'm just sayin.

      May 11, 2011 at 15:55 | Report abuse |
    • Get it

      Hank is 100% right. Alcoholism is a symptom, the disease is self loathing.

      August 12, 2011 at 19:06 | Report abuse |
  4. Pat

    My wife was a lifelong depressive (on and off) and alcoholic (also on and off). She had 14 years on AA -another 4 on and off between sober and drinking. I depleted my 401k between the DUI , rehab and psychiatric help. She had many good years and managed to get an MFA in fine arts. She had a terribly abusive mother and father. But you know my love was so strong for her, that in the last 4 years when she did not seem to be able to stop drinking, I eased up on the "you're going to kill yourself if you keep drinking." and loved her and took care of her. She died in 2008 of a heart attack, trying once again to be clean and sober. I do not regret a thing I did, including buying the booze A quote from S. Kierkegaard guides me in this (and it is derived from the New Testament): “Never cease loving a person, and never give up hope for that person, for even the prodigal son who had fallen most low, could still be saved; the bitterest enemy and also he who was your friend could again be your friend; love that has grown cold can kindle”

    May 11, 2011 at 16:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Matt

    Good luck on this one, Dr. Drew – from the comments on one of the preceding articles, it seems like there's a sizable group of people who mistakenly believe that the choices for terminal alcoholics are "wet house" or "treatment". Apparently none of these folks has even really paid attention to the world; for at least some of the people interviewed in the earlier piece, the choices were "wet house" or "cardboard box"...

    May 11, 2011 at 19:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Celery

    Isn't chronic alcohollism really a death wish? people who aren't chronically depressed wouldn't want to drink the way alcoholics do. This is very Kevorkian if you ask me and if people want to drink themselves to death who are we to stop them or judge them? It will however, be like abortion.....divided down the middle and controlled by religious people who think suffering is necessary.

    May 11, 2011 at 21:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Celery

    PS – AND its better than being judged by the discriminatory closed minded public who still don't get that alcoholism is a disease. Put these people in an environment where they can be honest and themselves.

    May 11, 2011 at 21:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Celery

    Lars you may have never met an alcoholic who didn't drink booze, but plenty of people who die of cirrhosis never drank. Cirrhosis usually kills alcoholics.

    May 11, 2011 at 21:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Celery

    ARRRRGGGGGH. DR. DREW! Abstinence is the only answer because science and medicine have not found a cure!!!!!! you know why? alcoholism doesn't get the funding that things like a limp dick does.

    May 11, 2011 at 21:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Winner

      "alcoholism doesn't get the funding that things like a limp dick does."

      THE NIAAA currently has a $460M annual budget – that is only US, obviously other countries do research on alcoholism as well. R&D for Viagra and alternatives is almost entirely private sector and certainly nowhere near that amount – and even the drug that became the famous Viagra wasn't developed for erections, that was a side effect of what was supposed to be heart medication.

      In short, get your facts straight.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:55 | Report abuse |
  10. Dave

    What a crock o crud this story is. They are misrepresenting this place. The roperter completely left out most of the story

    May 11, 2011 at 22:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. David

    dear Dr drew. my name is David i was born with ADHA , dislecea m, in resors and fisical and emotiana phisical abuse through out my life . i also have a history of addiction. i have tryed so hard to get my life back to as much to " normal " as i can. im really not good at writing out what i feel or think , it's really hard. i guess what im asking for is help . i'm at the point in my life that i cant see any light in life. i keep trying but really wish i wouldn.t wake up any more . whats the worst is i know theres so much more to me but am so lost i don't know what to do . I AM SO SCARED THAT I WILL BE JUST A STATISTIC. please give me some advice.

    May 12, 2011 at 05:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kaitlyn

      David, Dr. Drew won't help you because he's too busy being famous. You should try AA (Alcoholics Anonymousness) http://www.aa.org/lang/en/subpage.cfm?page=12
      or NA (Narcotics Anonymous). http://www.na.org/?ID=IsNAForMe-content
      It's the only program you'll find for free and if you're committed, they will help you find success.
      Good luck! :)

      Remember, nothing is ever lost until you stop looking. Find yourself and you will reach your potential.

      May 13, 2011 at 01:05 | Report abuse |
  12. Becky

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Dr Drew. I agree with you; you ask important questions. I work in mental health crisis in MN and I ask myself these very questions. But the issue here in Minnesota, and remember, we used to be known as the land of 10,000 rehabs, is simply money. Our society has become focused on reducing taxes at all costs. Even if one ONLY thinks about money and not the loss of our humanity, ignoring this crisis just shifts the costs to unfunded hospitalizations and ER visits, law enforcement involvement, maintaining greater and greater populations in prisons, foster care for the children of this population, future costs to care for people impacted by their parents' drug and alcohol use, etc. Additionally, our laws do not allow us to force people into CDTX. Committing people for CD and mental health reasons has become almost impossible. Again, this relates to money: commitment decisions have been heavily impacted by money. There is not funding to do the right thing for this suffering population. We are now seeing the 4th generation of families impacted by unaddressed CD and mental health issues. This is all so wrong on so many levels. Sadly, St Anthony is the last line of defense for these unfortunate people. Without it, alcoholics would freeze to death, be beaten and robbed,etc outside. We see numerous people with lost toes and fingers due to passing out outside in a MN winter. And the really scary thing is that there are people who fail St Anthony House and are not deemed committable. Knowing how shame negatively impacts so many people, I still have to say, "shame on America" for letting this happen.

    May 12, 2011 at 07:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Libby

      Thank you for your insightful comments and for the incredible work you do everyday.

      May 14, 2011 at 02:59 | Report abuse |
  13. Lainie

    Why are these "wet houses" ok and not "crack or herion houses"? It seems to me the only reason is that alcohol is legal, so it is ok to have funding to support these environments. Both illegal narcotics and alcohol cause damage to the individual, their families and to society. Why is it that because one of those drugs is legal that it should be ok to support?

    How do these individuals living in the "wet houses" get $89 a month to buy their toiletries and then have enough for the month for their alcohol? Are they committing other crimes such as stealing, etc...to have sufficient funds to support their drinking for the month?

    May 12, 2011 at 10:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. becky

    Yes! All good questions. I agree. It's bizarre that alcohol is treated differently than crack, etc. Public funded detox centers mostly only want alcoholics. And yes, people do commit crimes to support their habits, whether alcohol and/or drugs. Another reason to stop this insanity. Many have underlying, untreated mental health problems, too. It's all so inhumane...

    May 12, 2011 at 23:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Donna DeMaria

    I am the Director of a homeless organization in Albany, NY that modeled a housing program for chronic alcoholics on the St. Anthony’s resident. I have been working with homeless alcoholics for over 23 years. These individuals had lived on the streets for 20-30 years prior to moving into our housing. Unfortunately, this type of housing has been mischaracterized by Dr. Drew. I love Dr. Drew and watch him regularly on Celebrity Rehab.

    Our housing program opened 11 years ago. Prior to that, we saw the same small group of homeless alcoholics sleeping outside, cycling in and out of treatment dozens of times, unsuccessfully. We saw them die on the streets, homeless, without people to care about them. Many of them have lost relationships, jobs, family, etc. Our philosophy was that they deserve housing and a chance to determine if they would like to sober up. If not, they don’t deserve to sleep outside.

    Where I think St. Anthony’s has been mischaracterized is that just because they and we offer housing to individuals and allow them to come in intoxicated, it does not mean that we do not support sobriety. In our program, we will do anything and everything to help someone obtain treatment. We believe very strongly in not enabling people and do not agree that providing them with housing is enabling. Does every active alcoholic have to sleep on the streets in order to sober up? Of course not! In our housing program, we keep daily sobriety statistics. Every year we total them up and give awards to tenants who maintained over 25% of the time sober. We count up their days for the year and do not believe that you are only successful if you maintain consecutive days of sobriety. However, we also have individuals who do maintain consecutive days. We have an individual who currently has 5 years sober who prior to moving in and daily paramedic and police involvement. In 2010, 8 out of 31 people had 90-100% sobriety for the year. This is significant for a group of people who were drinking daily prior to moving into the housing. We have another individual who is coming up on 1 year of sobriety in July. We have another person who slept outside on the streets for 21 years who since he moved in, has cut his drinking down to only 1 day per week and otherwise is sober 6 days of the week. We have another individual who is approaching 500 days of sobriety soon and staff have supported him daily. Many of our tenants have a traumatic brain injury from drinking and of those who do not, many have limited capacities due to the years of drinking and living outside.

    Our housing program does not allow individuals to drink on the premises. We also do not support our tenants obtaining money from the government and talk to all of their family members to tell them not to send them cash as it would only go toward drinking. We have had to educate family members about the disease of alcoholism to tell them to stop supporting their drinking. We try to ensure that all of our tenants who do get social security have a payee who will not give them cash to drink with. We are all outraged that our federal government approves them for SSI or SSD when we provide them with housing, all food, clothing, toiletries and pretty much anything they need. Yet the government still does grant them SSI or SSD and then we need to tell them that they must have a payee so they don’t end up drunk daily. It outrages all of us when a tenant does not have a payee and receives tax dollars to go and drink.

    We also have a few tenants who when they are drinking, have had repeated incidents of violence in the house so we have had to enforce a policy with those few that they can only come in when they are sober. This has also dramatically cut down on their drinking.

    I fully support AA and NA and addiction treatment. We will do anything to help someone who wants it. We also had another tenant who has had some serious incidents of acting out in the house and we told him he had to be sober for 2 weeks to continue living here. He succeeded and actually sobered up for 3 weeks. Our manager worked a 9 hour day on his 2nd day of sobriety and when he started hallucinating from going into DT’s, she came back in to pick him up and took him to detox and stayed with him until 3AM after having just left work at 7pm. We helped keep him sober on his birthday by taking him to a nature park and to the museum to keep him occupied so he wouldn’t drink. After returning to drinking for a week shortly thereafter, he had another behavioral incident and we encouraged him to sober up again and are supporting him in his sobriety right now. Last night, I spoke to him about trying AA and gave him a list of all of the meetings in the area and told him if he needs a ride to a meeting to ask staff and we would take him there. Most of our tenants have tried AA and treatment and do not usually want to attend and are rebellious against these programs because they have found that it didn’t work for them. However, I do not agree. I think it could work if they wanted it to work but if they won’t go, we still support their sobriety here. We also have had some referrals over the years from treatment programs who recognize that some people just continually cycle through rehab, sometimes because they have nowhere to live and they really do not want sobriety.

    We encourage accountability when an individual is arrested and have helped them go to treatment. In fact, the person who is coming up on a year of sobriety was told last year but a judge that he needed to maintain sobriety and if he didn’t, he would end up incarcerated. Since that time, we breathalyze him anytime he returns to the building and he is always sober and as a result, he hasn’t had a desire to drink in a long time. We do understand though that we can provide all of the accountability and consequences but unless an individual truly wants sobriety, they may not succeed. The only time that this may not be true is if they end up being sentenced to treatment in lieu of jail and even then, unless they really want it, they may drink upon release.

    I do not believe that Dr. Drew and I differ very much on our philosophy of treatment and maintaining sobriety. We do not give up on anyone yet we operate a “damp house”. However, we are realistic enough to understand that not everyone will sober up and those who do not, should not be relegated to a life outside on our streets. Providing housing, gives them a chance.

    May 13, 2011 at 21:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Libby

      Thank you for describing your amazing program and setting the record straight about the non-coercive and respectful treatment you provide. Thank you for the incredibly important work you do everyday.

      May 14, 2011 at 03:02 | Report abuse |
    • Linda Jane Riley (The Immortal Alcoholic's Wife)

      Great article and great work, Donna!

      I'm wondering how your organization is funded? It costs money to house these people. How do you manage financially if you do not charge your residents a fee?

      January 6, 2012 at 06:38 | Report abuse |
    • Dar

      Barbara,In the Greater Baltimore Area there are about 85 meetings wekely. We adhere to the guidelines given in the Al-Anon/Alateen Service Manual. Here, we have many dual members (Al-Anon, AA, OA, etc.) who energetically support and contribute to healthy group activity. However, our Group Statement (read before each meeting) states, in part, that members of other anonymous fellowships must remain anonymous and focus on the Al-Anon program and that ONLY CAL (Conference Approved Literature) can be used and/or distributed at an Al-Anon meeting and the Big Book is NOT CAL. Please study the Al-Anon/Alateen Service Manual. I think that all the evidence you need will be there.Larry D.Baltimore AIS

      October 14, 2012 at 01:57 | Report abuse |
  16. Libby

    Look up "motivational interviewing." The most effective way to help someone address their addiction is to help them see the discrepancy between what they want out of life and where they actually are and help them to create a plan of how they change their behavior. Making someone feel badly or forcing them to change is not effective and just pushes people away. There are consequences to drinking no matter where a person is doing it, but this type of program gives people a safe place to exist as a human instead of being a forgotten person on the street. These programs save money and allow the residents to live and die with dignity. I could go on and on about how positive these programs are and the research proves it. I am an MSW and specialize in addictions treatment, I have seen first hand how affective and incredible these programs can be.

    May 14, 2011 at 02:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Diane Ganzer Baum

    Alcoholism. It's a journey only those who have taken can understand. Imagine a life where your very existence is dependent upon drinking. At first, it begins as just having fun while partying...or maybe life's situations has forced you to drink to forget the pain. Soon, it becomes out of control. All or nothing. You know that to continue, you will lose everything you have...including sooner or later...your life – or someone else's. Yet the seductive lure of Lady Alcohol constantly calls your name. She is your mistress – your lover- the one you will give up everything else for, just to keep her in your life. These are the stories of those for whom alcohol overshadows their lives... It has stolen dreams, respect, marriages, relationships. It has taken some lives too soon, while others wait for the inevitable, drowning their sorrows as they tick off the minutes until death has come. Some are given a second chance...many are not as lucky. These are the stories you will remember... From a hell-raising life spent in a small town, to lives in residences for late stage chronic inebriates, to living homeless for many years waiting for that one small step out of despair, the common theme is simple... There, but for the grace of God, go I. (taken from the back cover of "There, but for the Grace of God (plus a few good friends & family) Go I."

    May 17, 2011 at 20:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Diane Ganzer Baum

    I encourage one and all to visit my website http://www.dianeganzer.com. You will see what I have written about alcoholism and how it affects ALL of us!

    May 17, 2011 at 20:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. joseph gutierrez

    Dr. Drew remember me? Its me joe. I still stand by the wet house. I'm a survivor and not the only one. I appreciate you doing a story about this. People need to know about this place and sure theres going ro be alot of people that don't like it and some who stand by it like me. Alcoholism is no joke. I been there done that, now I got an apartment and going to get married to my baby mamma in october so I just wanted to let you know how were doing and I'm going to get my 2 year medallion and is there any way you or the show canm help us start our new life? write me on my email or back on here ! Thanks you so very much dr.drew ! peace n love ! P.s. You should do a show on ppl who lived there n got sober n still living sober !:)

    August 11, 2011 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. RockinRebie

    "Defending the practice of paying addicts to attend rehab, producer Pinsky says, "My whole thing is bait and switch. Whatever motivates them to come in, that’s fine. Then we can get them involved with the process."

    Isn't this just another way to get "them" involved in the process?

    February 16, 2012 at 19:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Fuarosa

    Prayer in the circleAn old-timer of 27 years taghut me why he stays outside of the circle at the end of any AA meeting. The relationship that he has with his Higher Power is his private relationship and he chooses to keep that part on a personal level. He never had much church or religion in his life and the belief that he established in the 2nd step was one of his own making. He was taghut that the choice he made was his own conception of god (page 12) and that trusting an infinite god rather than our finite self (page 68) was the key to a problem that he had for years. The belief was enough for him to get through the day and to put out his hand to help any other alcoholic get sober, which was extremely important to him. As the years evolved he discovered that the more he gave a helping hand the more his spiritual concept grew. The closer to an open mind he stayed with his personal HP, the more he found and discovered about himself (page 158). The idea that GOD (god, HP, Buddha, etc.) will reveal more and disclose more to each of us (page 164) is based on how well we are willing to rid ourselves of past prejudices. The old-timer passed away with cancer and there was not in him one bit of fear with going.

    October 11, 2012 at 18:58 | Report abuse | Reply

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