Where alcoholics can drink themselves to death
Marion Hagerman, 54, is a chronic alcoholic who lives at a "wet house," a state-funded residence where he's allowed to drink.
May 6th, 2011
07:38 AM ET

Where alcoholics can drink themselves to death

Learn more about the controversial "wet house" concept for dealing with chronic alcoholics this Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET on "Sanjay Gupta, MD."

St. Paul, Minnesota (CNN) - It's been over seven years since Marion Hagerman has spoken to anyone in his family.  As he huddles behind a parked trailer on a cold early spring day, Hagerman reflects on his life, and recalls what led him to this moment.

"This is my lifestyle," says Hagerman, 54, while sneaking a swig of what he calls "wash," or mouthwash - a cheap way of getting intoxicated. "It ain't much, but this is what I have.  It sucks. "

He says he held a steady job for 20 years, before his addiction to alcohol took over his life.  Today, Hagerman lives at St. Anthony Residence in St. Paul, Minnesota, along with about 60 other late-stage alcoholics.

St. Anthony, which receives funds from the state and is operated by Catholic Charities, is known as a "wet house" because Hagerman and the others are allowed to drink on site, with some caveats - including no mouthwash.

"It's not bad. I got cable TV," Hagerman says.   "You can't drink in your room, but you can drink. You gotta do it outside."

The theory is that it's better to allow these guys to drink in a safe place than to end up on the streets and in the city's emergency rooms, jails, and detox centers.   At St. Anthony, they have access to nurses - and doctors if the situation warrants - plus on-site case managers to aid in their addiction. Ideally, St. Anthony's counselors want the residents to sober up - but they realize that there isn't a strong chance of that happening.

St. Paul isn't the only city that has a "wet house"-style residence - Seattle was one of the first cities to put this concept into practice in 2005, and Memphis is considering building one, too.

Another argument in favor of the concept is that it saves money.   Each St. Anthony's resident costs about $18,000 a year to house and feed, about $1,500 a month.  A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that if these men were out on the street, it could cost over $4,000 a month in incarceration, shelter and sobering center use, hospital-based medical services, publicly funded alcohol and drug detoxification and treatment, and emergency medical services.

But the idea of allowing alcoholics to drink is antithetic to the basic tenets of addiction counseling.

"We feel that that it's never too late, and that even if the alcoholic doesn't want help, doesn't mean that their drinking should be condoned or in any other way enabled or facilitated," says William Cope Moyers, public advocacy executive director for Hazelden addiction treatment centers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region.

"I see the wet house model as a model that enables the addict in the alcoholic to continue those destructive patterns."

Moyers, who is the son of well-known journalist Bill Moyers, has chronicled his own struggle in his book, "Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption."  His opposition to the wet house concept is commonplace among addiction counselors.

St. Anthony Residence program manager Bill Hockenberger calls the wet house a "harm reduction model," instead of a treatment center.   He says by giving these men a home - men who have all gone through nearly every treatment numerous times - it gets them off the streets.

The added comfort of having a place to call home at night and the dignity that restores in the men in return, he says, leads men to drink less.

"They didn't want to be an alcoholic," he said. "A lot of them just didn't have a choice in the matter ... this provides safe secure housing for those most in need. We are in business to do the humane thing."

Hagerman, like a lot of the other St. Anthony residents, says he'd like to eventually leave and find a job. But he feels like he's stuck.

"No I don’t want to stay there, I'd like to get a goddamn  job and get the hell outta there," he says.  "Jesus Christ,  I turn 55 in September,  I'm getting old.   Who wants to hire a 55-year-old man?"

Like a lot of the residents, Hagerman's addiction to alcohol not only keeps him out of a job - it keeps him away from his family, too.

Just weeks after he learned his brother Jerry died from a heart attack, he learned that another brother, Mike, is in the hospital, dying from colon cancer.

I give him a ride to the hospital, where he visits Mike and sits down with his other brother, Ray, for the first time in seven years.

It's an awkward conversation, as Ray talks about Marion, seated next to him, as if he's not even there.

"It's like we did kind of wash our hands [of] him when our parents died," Ray says.  "We weren't going to take care of him.  I'm glad to see that he's still alive because none of us were sure if he was.  Always looked on the streets to see if I would see him somewhere."

Ray says isn't sure what a "wet house" is, but seems to be OK with the idea.

"I don’t think he's ever gonna stop drinking," Ray says.

"No, no, I'm not going to," Marion responds, as if to remind Ray he's sitting right there.  "My lifestyle keeps me alive."

"Yeah it also keeps you separated from everybody in the last years of their lives," his brother says.

The day after the visit, Mike succumbs to colon cancer.

"It's my life.  That's as far as it goes," Marion says a few days later, as he seeks to numb himself from the pain of his loss.  "I live here. Look at this?  Do you think I’m happy with this situation? No, I can't stand it. But I have nothing else to do."

Watch Sanjay Gupta MD Saturday at 4:30pm and Sunday at 7:30am ET. For the latest from Sanjay Gupta MD click here.

soundoff (2,435 Responses)
  1. trending

    Greetings from California! I'm bored to death
    at work so I decided to check out your blog
    on my iphone during lunhch break. I enjoy the ino you provide here and
    can't wait to take a look when I get home. I'm aamazed
    at how quick yopur blog loaded on my mobole .. I'm not even using WIFI, juswt 3G ..
    Anyways, amazing site!

    April 28, 2021 at 11:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. sildenafil otc australia

    generic sildenafil 100mg https://eunicesildenafilcitrate.com/ sildenafil australia buy

    April 28, 2021 at 21:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. chloroquine phosphate brand name

    is chloroquine an antibiotic https://chloroquineorigin.com/ chloroquine phosphate medicine

    April 28, 2021 at 23:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. dapoxetine

    dapoxetine tablets price priligy pills usa

    April 29, 2021 at 01:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. canadian generic cialis 20mg

    canadian pharmacy cialis without prescription https://canadacialisstore.com/ buy cialis online canadian

    April 29, 2021 at 02:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. canadian customs pills vitamins

    canadian diet pills https://canadapillstorex.com/ canadian customs pills vitamins

    April 29, 2021 at 07:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. canadian diet pills

    canadian pills pharmacy https://canadapillstorex.com/ best canadian mail order pharmacies for diet pills

    April 29, 2021 at 07:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. priligy

    dapoxetine tablet buy priligy uk

    April 29, 2021 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. avana

    buy avanafil canada avanafil buy

    April 29, 2021 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Rough Terrain Forklift Rental

    You're so cool! I do not think I've read through a single thing like that before.

    So great to discover somebody with a few unique thoughts on this
    subject matter. Really.. many thanks for starting
    this up. This website is something that is required on the web, someone with a little originality!

    April 29, 2021 at 12:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Spider Lifts

    Nice post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am impressed!
    Extremely helpful information particularly the remaining phase 🙂 I maintain such information much.
    I used to be looking for this particular info
    for a very lengthy time. Thank you and best of luck.

    April 29, 2021 at 12:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. what is clonidine

    natural chloroquine https://chloroquineorigin.com/ chloroquine natural sources

    April 30, 2021 at 08:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. ed medication

    online doctor erectile dysfunction https://canadaerectiledysfunctionpills.com/ viagra without erectile dysfunction

    April 30, 2021 at 22:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. priligy

    dapoxetine pills for sale dapoxetine pills

    May 1, 2021 at 03:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. avana

    buy avana online avana drug

    May 1, 2021 at 03:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. dapoxetine

    dapoxetine 1mg buy avanafil canada

    May 2, 2021 at 22:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. avanafil

    avanafil dose avanafil pill

    May 3, 2021 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. adhd group

    Good article. I'm dealing with many of these issues as well..


    May 4, 2021 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. online goal group


    May 4, 2021 at 16:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. leadership memberships

    I truly love your site.. Excellent colors & theme. Did you build this site yourself? Please reply back as I’m looking to create my own personal website and would love to find out where you got this from or what the theme is named. Thank you!


    May 4, 2021 at 17:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. aika online private servers


    May 4, 2021 at 18:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. hino 268


    May 4, 2021 at 19:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. RV Supplies Los Angeles

    Aw, this was a really good post. Finding the time and actual effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I hesitate a lot and never manage to get nearly anything done.


    May 4, 2021 at 21:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. aika private server files download

    An interesting discussion is definitely worth comment. I think that you ought to publish more about this issue, it may not be a taboo matter but typically people don't discuss these issues. To the next! All the best!!


    May 5, 2021 at 02:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. RV Paint Shop Los Angeles

    May I simply say what a relief to discover an individual who truly understands what they are discussing on the net. You certainly understand how to bring a problem to light and make it important. A lot more people must read this and understand this side of your story. I can't believe you aren't more popular given that you definitely have the gift.


    May 5, 2021 at 03:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. accountability training


    May 5, 2021 at 05:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. online meditation coach


    May 5, 2021 at 06:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. RV Solar Panels Systems California


    May 5, 2021 at 06:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. winnebago view

    Having read this I believed it was really informative. I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this information together. I once again find myself spending way too much time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


    May 5, 2021 at 07:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Eyeglasses Near Me

    May I simply just say what a relief to discover a person that genuinely understands what they are talking about online. You actually understand how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More people really need to check this out and understand this side of your story. I can't believe you're not more popular given that you most certainly have the gift.


    May 5, 2021 at 13:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. online health coach


    May 5, 2021 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. RV Repair Orange County

    Pretty! This was a really wonderful article. Thank you for providing this information.


    May 5, 2021 at 13:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Eye Doctors Near Me


    May 5, 2021 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. truck radiator repair shop


    May 5, 2021 at 18:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. places to eat near me

    An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a coworker who had been doing a little research on this. And he actually ordered me dinner due to the fact that I stumbled upon it for him... lol. So allow me to reword this.... Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending time to talk about this matter here on your web page.


    May 5, 2021 at 19:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Cupids Health


    There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled.

    There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled.

    You feel it, dont you?

    Be the first to know important health alerts.
    Award winning Health Alert Website.

    May 5, 2021 at 21:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. lifestyle group


    May 5, 2021 at 22:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Orthokeratology Near Me

    It’s hard to come by well-informed people about this topic, however, you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks


    May 6, 2021 at 01:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. truck repair services


    May 6, 2021 at 03:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. roadside truck tire repair

    This is a very good tip especially to those new to the blogosphere. Brief but very precise info… Appreciate your sharing this one. A must read post!


    May 6, 2021 at 04:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Eyewear Near Me


    May 6, 2021 at 04:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. transformation coach near me


    May 6, 2021 at 06:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Vsp Providers

    This web site certainly has all the information and facts I wanted concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.


    May 6, 2021 at 09:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. flatbed truck replacement

    I’m amazed, I have to admit. Seldom do I encounter a blog that’s both equally educative and amusing, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head. The problem is an issue that not enough men and women are speaking intelligently about. I'm very happy I found this during my search for something relating to this.


    May 6, 2021 at 09:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Optometric Near Me

    Good information. Lucky me I came across your site by accident (stumbleupon). I've saved as a favorite for later!


    May 6, 2021 at 11:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. thrift store near me

    After I originally commented I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is a means you are able to remove me from that service? Kudos!


    May 6, 2021 at 13:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. RV Countertops Riverside


    May 6, 2021 at 13:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. success coach

    Your style is so unique compared to other folks I've read stuff from. I appreciate you for posting when you've got the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this site.


    May 6, 2021 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. cbd near me

    You've made some good points there. I checked on the internet for more information about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views on this web site.


    May 6, 2021 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. ace hardware near me


    May 6, 2021 at 17:10 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39

Leave a Reply to store near me


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.