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. RV Awning Repair Near Me


    May 30, 2021 at 23:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Mercedes Camper Van Repair Shop Near Me


    May 31, 2021 at 01:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. RV Water Repair Man Near Me

    This excellent website truly has all the information and facts I needed about this subject and didn’t know who to ask.


    May 31, 2021 at 01:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. RV Ac Repair Near Me


    May 31, 2021 at 02:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Commercial Van Repair Shop


    May 31, 2021 at 03:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. RV Glass Repair Near Me

    I could not resist commenting. Exceptionally well written!


    May 31, 2021 at 05:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. RV Plumbing Repair Near Me


    May 31, 2021 at 05:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. RV Body Repair Near Me


    May 31, 2021 at 06:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Camper RV Repair Near Me

    Saved as a favorite, I like your site!


    May 31, 2021 at 06:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Rv Mechanic

    Hello! I just would like to offer you a huge thumbs up for the excellent info you have got right here on this post. I'll be returning to your blog for more soon.


    May 31, 2021 at 06:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Sprinter Service

    This website certainly has all of the information and facts I needed about this subject and didn’t know who to ask.


    May 31, 2021 at 06:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Dodge Van Frame Repair Kit

    Everything is very open with a really clear clarification of the issues. It was really informative. Your site is extremely helpful. Thanks for sharing!


    May 31, 2021 at 09:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Mercedes Sprinter Service Centers

    Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular article! It is the little changes that will make the most important changes. Thanks for sharing!


    May 31, 2021 at 10:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. RV Fridge Repair Near Me


    May 31, 2021 at 10:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Mercedes Sprinter Refrigerator Repair

    It’s difficult to find educated people on this subject, but you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks


    May 31, 2021 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. RV Repair Places Near Me


    May 31, 2021 at 12:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. RV Ac Repair Near Me


    May 31, 2021 at 12:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Video Marketing Service


    May 31, 2021 at 13:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Social Media Marketing Company


    May 31, 2021 at 14:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Municipal Vehicle Repair Shop


    May 31, 2021 at 18:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. RV Repair Shops Near Me

    Great web site you've got here.. It’s hard to find excellent writing like yours nowadays. I really appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!


    May 31, 2021 at 18:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Dodge Sprinter Step Repair


    May 31, 2021 at 20:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. 2003 Sprinter Ac Repair

    Very good blog post. I certainly appreciate this site. Keep writing!


    May 31, 2021 at 20:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. RV Service And Repair Near Me


    May 31, 2021 at 21:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Sprinter Van Wrap Shop Near Me


    May 31, 2021 at 22:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Chevy Express Van Repair

    Good site you have got here.. It’s difficult to find good quality writing like yours these days. I truly appreciate people like you! Take care!!


    June 1, 2021 at 00:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. High Top Van Repair

    After looking into a few of the articles on your website, I honestly appreciate your way of blogging. I book marked it to my bookmark webpage list and will be checking back in the near future. Please check out my website too and tell me how you feel.


    June 1, 2021 at 01:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Sprinter Van Frame Repair Shop Near Me

    The very next time I read a blog, I hope that it does not disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read through, however I genuinely believed you would probably have something helpful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of complaining about something that you could possibly fix if you were not too busy seeking attention.


    June 1, 2021 at 01:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Sprinter Mechanic

    I wanted to thank you for this fantastic read!! I definitely enjoyed every bit of it. I have you book marked to check out new stuff you post…


    June 1, 2021 at 01:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Sprinter Cdi Injector Repair


    June 1, 2021 at 04:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Sprinter Van Inside Computer Repair Shop

    The very next time I read a blog, Hopefully it won't disappoint me just as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read through, nonetheless I really believed you would probably have something interesting to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of complaining about something you could possibly fix if you weren't too busy looking for attention.


    June 1, 2021 at 07:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Van Door Repair


    June 1, 2021 at 08:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. frame repair shop near me


    June 1, 2021 at 10:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. furniture reupholstery orange county

    I used to be able to find good advice from your blog articles.


    June 1, 2021 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Mercedes Camper Van Repair Shop Near Me

    An intriguing discussion is worth comment. There's no doubt that that you need to publish more on this subject matter, it might not be a taboo matter but usually people do not discuss these topics. To the next! All the best!!


    June 1, 2021 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Van Conversion Shop Near Me


    June 1, 2021 at 12:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Lue Mosca

    Everything is very open with a clear description of the challenges. It was really informative. Your site is extremely helpful. Thank you for sharing!


    June 1, 2021 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. rv technician near me


    June 1, 2021 at 14:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Rv Frame Repair


    June 1, 2021 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Specialty Van Repair Shop Near Me


    June 1, 2021 at 16:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. rv supply near me


    June 1, 2021 at 16:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. sunroof repair near me


    June 1, 2021 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Parker Collozo


    June 1, 2021 at 20:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Sharen Ketner

    I quite like reading through a post that can make people think. Also, thanks for allowing for me to comment!


    June 1, 2021 at 20:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. rv orange county

    May I simply say what a relief to discover a person that truly knows what they are discussing on the net. You definitely understand how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More and more people have to check this out and understand this side of the story. I can't believe you're not more popular because you most certainly possess the gift.


    June 1, 2021 at 20:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Van Conversion Shop Near Me


    June 1, 2021 at 21:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Rosendo Oakley

    Hi! I could have sworn I’ve been to this site before but after browsing through some of the articles I realized it’s new to me. Regardless, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking back often!


    June 1, 2021 at 21:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Touring Van Repair Shop


    June 1, 2021 at 22:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Ford High Top Van Repair Shop


    June 1, 2021 at 22:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. rv remodel supplies


    June 2, 2021 at 00:00 | 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 realtor coeur d alene idaho


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.