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. Rosaline Drewniak


    June 10, 2021 at 19:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. rv repair shop


    June 10, 2021 at 21:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Sally Tousley

    Everyone loves it when people come together and share thoughts. Great website, stick with it!

    June 10, 2021 at 22:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Elvira Suh

    Unquestionably believe that which you said. Your favorite reason appeared to be at the internet the easiest factor to keep in mind of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while other folks think about issues that they plainly do not know about. You controlled to hit the nail upon the highest and outlined out the whole thing without having side effect , other folks can take a signal. Will probably be again to get more. Thanks


    June 10, 2021 at 22:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Emmitt Niemela


    June 10, 2021 at 23:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Mckinley Befus

    You're so cool! I do not think I've read something like that before. So wonderful to find someone with original thoughts on this subject. Really.. thank you for starting this up. This website is something that is needed on the web, someone with a bit of originality!

    June 10, 2021 at 23:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Oretha Kaawa

    I want to to thank you for this very good read!! I certainly enjoyed every little bit of it. I have you book-marked to look at new stuff you postÖ


    June 10, 2021 at 23:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Stephane Oren

    Spot on with this write-up, I honestly feel this site needs a great deal more attention. Iíll probably be back again to read more, thanks for the advice!


    June 11, 2021 at 02:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. rv repair shop near me


    June 11, 2021 at 03:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Tyrone Vice


    June 11, 2021 at 05:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Chadwick Limbaugh

    Iím impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I encounter a blog thatís both equally educative and entertaining, and without a doubt, you've hit the nail on the head. The issue is an issue that too few folks are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy I came across this in my search for something concerning this.

    June 11, 2021 at 06:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. rv repair near me now


    June 11, 2021 at 06:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Blake Sterpka


    June 11, 2021 at 06:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Jason Linsey

    I seriously love your website.. Excellent colors & theme. Did you create this site yourself? Please reply back as Iím trying to create my own site and want to know where you got this from or exactly what the theme is named. Appreciate it!


    June 11, 2021 at 08:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Ghislaine Korner


    June 11, 2021 at 09:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Elisha Lenling

    Very nice article. I definitely appreciate this site. Keep writing!


    June 11, 2021 at 09:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Cecille Rosica

    You ought to be a part of a contest for one of the most useful websites on the internet. I most certainly will highly recommend this web site!


    June 11, 2021 at 09:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. rv repair shops


    June 11, 2021 at 12:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. near me


    June 11, 2021 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. solar panels orange county


    June 11, 2021 at 13:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. union near me


    June 11, 2021 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. camper furniture replacement

    I wanted to thank you for this fantastic read!! I certainly enjoyed every little bit of it. I have you saved as a favorite to look at new things you postÖ


    June 11, 2021 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. RV Entertainment System Near Me


    June 11, 2021 at 16:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Frightliner Sprinter Repair Shop


    June 11, 2021 at 16:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Luxury Van Repair

    After I originally commented I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now whenever a comment is added I receive four emails with the exact same comment. There has to be a way you are able to remove me from that service? Appreciate it!


    June 11, 2021 at 16:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Sprinter Rust Repair

    Spot on with this write-up, I seriously believe that this amazing site needs a great deal more attention. Iíll probably be back again to see more, thanks for the information!


    June 11, 2021 at 19:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. RV Renovation Riverside


    June 11, 2021 at 20:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Conversion Shop

    Hello! I could have sworn Iíve visited this site before but after looking at many of the articles I realized itís new to me. Anyhow, Iím definitely happy I found it and Iíll be book-marking it and checking back often!


    June 11, 2021 at 20:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Dodge Van Repair

    Wonderful article! We are linking to this great content on our site. Keep up the great writing.


    June 11, 2021 at 20:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. motorhome mechanic near me

    After looking at a handful of the blog posts on your site, I seriously like your technique of blogging. I saved it to my bookmark website list and will be checking back soon. Please visit my website too and let me know your opinion.


    June 11, 2021 at 20:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Motorhome Engine Repair

    This web site truly has all the info I needed about this subject and didnít know who to ask.


    June 11, 2021 at 22:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. xoi lac tv

    Thẳng Bóng Đá Việt Nam Vs Lebanon. Coi Truc Tiep Bong Da. Futsal Việt Namxem kênh vtv6Trên băng ghế đào tạo, Lebanon đã bổ nhiệm Ramiro Lopez cách đây 3 tuần. Nhà cầm cố quân người Tây Ban Nha công ty yếu ớt làm việc trên Ý và từng có thời hạn làm việc trên Kuwait.|Và NHM bóng đá Việt Nam đang chờ Minh Trí cùng đồng đội hóa giải đối thủ để tạo lợi thế cho trận lượt về sau đây hai ngày. Chelsea đã phải trải qua 8 phút bù giờ khó thở đảm bảo thành công.


    June 11, 2021 at 22:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. rv mattress near me


    June 11, 2021 at 23:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. RV Restoration California

    Aw, this was an extremely nice post. Taking the time and actual effort to produce a top notch articleÖ but what can I sayÖ I hesitate a whole lot and never seem to get anything done.


    June 12, 2021 at 03:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Van Conversion


    June 12, 2021 at 03:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Sprinter Van Repair Shops

    Itís hard to come by well-informed people in this particular subject, but you seem like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks


    June 12, 2021 at 04:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Van Wheelchair Lift Repair Near Me


    June 12, 2021 at 04:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. red tube photo

    An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who has been conducting a little research on this. And he actually bought me dinner simply because I found it for him... lol. So let me reword this.... Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending time to talk about this subject here on your web site.


    June 12, 2021 at 07:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. RV Storage Los Angeles

    I could not resist commenting. Perfectly written!


    June 12, 2021 at 07:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Luxury Van Shop

    Good article. I absolutely appreciate this site. Keep writing!


    June 12, 2021 at 07:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Repair Shop Near Me


    June 12, 2021 at 08:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Fiberglass Van Roof Repair

    Iím amazed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog thatís equally educative and engaging, and let me tell you, you've hit the nail on the head. The issue is an issue that not enough folks are speaking intelligently about. Now i'm very happy I came across this during my hunt for something regarding this.


    June 12, 2021 at 08:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Johnson Kakacek

    Everyone loves it when individuals come together and share views. Great blog, keep it up!


    June 12, 2021 at 12:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Ulysses Barchacky

    An interesting discussion is worth comment. I believe that you should write more about this topic, it might not be a taboo subject but usually folks don't discuss these issues. To the next! All the best!!


    June 12, 2021 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Theo Huffstutter


    June 12, 2021 at 12:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Tamisha Shirota

    You ought to be a part of a contest for one of the highest quality sites on the internet. I will recommend this blog!


    June 12, 2021 at 12:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Lecia Hayball


    June 12, 2021 at 12:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. dominos near me

    Hello there! This blog post could not be written much better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept preaching about this. I'll forward this article to him. Fairly certain he'll have a very good read. I appreciate you for sharing!


    June 12, 2021 at 13:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. little caesars near me

    I really like it when individuals get together and share ideas. Great website, keep it up!


    June 12, 2021 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. car dealerships near me

    I wanted to thank you for this good read!! I definitely loved every little bit of it. I have you saved as a favorite to check out new stuff you postÖ


    June 12, 2021 at 16:10 | 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.