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. Sprinter Van Repair Near Me

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


    June 27, 2021 at 20:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. RV Repair Shop


    June 27, 2021 at 20:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. RV Repair Near My Location

    Can I just say what a comfort to discover someone who truly understands what they're talking about on the net. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. A lot more people need to check this out and understand this side of the story. I was surprised you're not more popular since you surely have the gift.


    June 27, 2021 at 22:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Celebrity Van Repair


    June 27, 2021 at 23:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Sprinter Repair Near Me


    June 28, 2021 at 00:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Repair Sprinter Seat


    June 28, 2021 at 01:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. mestres do bitcoin 3.0

    Congratulations, Great article. 480460162


    June 28, 2021 at 01:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. RV Repair Shops Near My Location


    June 28, 2021 at 03:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Van Sliding Door Repair


    June 28, 2021 at 03:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Sprinter Repair Shops Near Me


    June 28, 2021 at 04:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Mercedes Benz Collision Repair Sprinter Van


    June 28, 2021 at 04:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Coachmen Van Repair Shop Near Me


    June 28, 2021 at 04:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. pharmaceptica.com

    is hydroxychloroquine safe https://pharmaceptica.com/

    June 28, 2021 at 05:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Camper Repairs Near Me


    June 28, 2021 at 05:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. RV Repair Nearby


    June 28, 2021 at 05:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Chevrolet Cargo Van Repair Shop


    June 28, 2021 at 05:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Sprinter Repair Shops Near Me


    June 28, 2021 at 07:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Luxury Repair Shop Near Me

    Good post. I'm going through a few of these issues as well..


    June 28, 2021 at 09:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Van Auto Repair

    Hi, I do believe this is a great web site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I may come back once again since I saved as a favorite it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to help others.


    June 28, 2021 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. RV Repair Shops Near My Location

    Hi there! I could have sworn Iíve been to this website before but after going through a few of the posts I realized itís new to me. Anyhow, Iím definitely delighted I discovered it and Iíll be book-marking it and checking back often!


    June 28, 2021 at 10:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Roadtrek Repair

    I have to thank you for the efforts you've put in penning this website. I really hope to see the same high-grade content by you in the future as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my very own site now 😉


    June 28, 2021 at 10:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Sprinter Repair Shop Near Me

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


    June 28, 2021 at 10:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. RV Repair San Clemente California


    June 28, 2021 at 11:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. vtv6 hd

    Link Xem Trực Tiếp Soccer Futsal Việt Nam Vs Lebanon Vòng Chủng Loại World Cupjoanna charaktisĐây có lẽ rằng là ngôi trường hợp “của đi thay cho nhân viên" khá như ý đối cùng với Ben McLemore. Thiếu chút nữa tay ném của Los Angeles Lakers đã được thể gặp tai nạn nghiêm trọng. Cập nhật kết quả trận nước ta vs Lebanon thuộc play-off vòng loại Futsal World Cup 2021.


    June 28, 2021 at 12:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. RV Repair Shops Near Me Now


    June 28, 2021 at 13:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Camper Repair Shops Near Me


    June 28, 2021 at 17:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Sprinter Repair Shops Near Me

    An interesting discussion is worth comment. I do think that you ought to publish more on this issue, it may not be a taboo matter but typically people do not talk about these issues. To the next! Cheers!!


    June 28, 2021 at 17:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. pharmacepticacom

    tadalafil peptides https://www.pharmaceptica.com/

    June 28, 2021 at 18:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. 2009 Stuck Intake Dodge Sprinter Repair

    I need to to thank you for this fantastic read!! I definitely loved every little bit of it. I've got you book marked to look at new stuff you postÖ


    June 28, 2021 at 18:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. pharmacepticacom

    cloriquin https://www.pharmaceptica.com/

    June 28, 2021 at 20:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Mechanic Shop

    I absolutely love your blog.. Very nice colors & theme. Did you develop this web site yourself? Please reply back as Iím wanting to create my very own website and want to know where you got this from or just what the theme is named. Many thanks!


    June 28, 2021 at 20:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Sprinter Van Repair

    I like it when folks come together and share opinions. Great blog, keep it up!


    June 28, 2021 at 20:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. www.pharmaceptica.com

    hydroxcloroquine https://www.pharmaceptica.com/

    June 29, 2021 at 03:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Jet Van Repair


    June 29, 2021 at 03:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. RV Repair Shop


    June 29, 2021 at 05:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Nearby RV Repairs

    I could not refrain from commenting. Perfectly written!


    June 29, 2021 at 05:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. RV Repair Shops Near Me Now


    June 29, 2021 at 07:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Maintenance Shop Near Me


    June 29, 2021 at 08:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. RV Repair Huntington Beach


    June 29, 2021 at 09:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Camper Repair Shop Near Me


    June 29, 2021 at 10:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Mb Sprinter Blind Spot Detection Repair

    I'd like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this website. I am hoping to check out the same high-grade blog posts from you in the future as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my very own blog now 😉


    June 29, 2021 at 11:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Camper Repair Shop Near Me

    Hello! I simply wish to offer you a huge thumbs up for your excellent information you have got right here on this post. I'll be returning to your blog for more soon.


    June 29, 2021 at 12:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Camper Repair Near Me


    June 29, 2021 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. RV Repair Huntington Beach

    This site certainly has all of the information and facts I needed about this subject and didnít know who to ask.


    June 29, 2021 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Sprinter Repair Orange County

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


    June 29, 2021 at 14:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. zing play

    Xoilac Tv Thẳng đá Bóng keo nhà cáiĐội tuyển chọn futsal Việt Nam đã có được một trận đấu đồng ý được trước phe đối lập đầy mức độ mạnh Lebanon. Kết quả Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu vs Bình Phước thời điểm hôm nay 18h00 ngày 5/5, Hạng nhất Việt Nam.


    June 29, 2021 at 14:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. RV Repair Shop

    Good post. I'm dealing with some of these issues as well..


    June 29, 2021 at 15:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. RV Repair Near Me


    June 29, 2021 at 17:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Camper Repair Places Near Me

    After looking over a few of the blog articles on your site, I seriously like your technique of writing a blog. I saved as a favorite it to my bookmark webpage list and will be checking back in the near future. Please visit my web site as well and let me know what you think.


    June 29, 2021 at 18:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Sprinter Van Repair Laguna Niguel


    June 29, 2021 at 19:12 | 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

Post a comment


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.