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Study on Homeless and Alcoholism

Despite longstanding ideas that allowing homeless people to drink in their subsidized housing would encourage alcohol abuse, a study has found that allowing drinking has decreased the reliance on alcohol in homeless individuals by 35%.

The study, completed at the University of Washington, focused its efforts on 95 participants in the Seattle area, all of whom were housed at the 1811 Eastlake Downtown Emergency Service Center. Of the 95 homeless in the study, 94% were men, and 67% of the participants were white or of Native descent.

The Seattle Downtown Emergency Service Center was the focus because it works off of a new approach to housing the homeless called the project-based Housing First, which allows the homeless to drink in their apartments. The center also relaxes some of the other traditional housing rules in an effort to provide housing first before treatment begins.

This approach counters the idea that legalizing drinking in housing projects would encourage the homeless to drink more or to drink more often. Instead, the project-based Housing First approach identifies the problems that abolishing alcohol in addicted individuals can cause.

In the past, under traditional housing approaches, many homeless left the projects in favor of the streets simply because abstaining from alcohol was either too difficult or too painful. The withdrawal from alcohol can be extremely painful and may even cause death in cases of delirium tremens, a severe form of alcohol withdrawal. For these homeless individuals, the pain of detoxification from alcohol addiction was too much amidst all of the other lifestyle changes required in the traditional housing projects.

Alcohol rehabilitation programs and addiction counseling may have helped over time in these severe addicts, but the stringent rules often included giving up belongings, obeying a curfew, attending alcohol rehabilitation programs and addiction treatment, and giving up drugs and alcohol all at once. The changes and strict rules were often unbearable to the homeless, who were used to caring for themselves however they pleased. Many also suffered from medical and psychiatric problems, which called for even more changes. 

In the project-based Housing First initiative, however, scientists have seen successes. To begin, the housing initiative has saved the taxpayers over $4 million in its first year of operation alone. This savings is attributed to lesser hospital bills, shelter costs, jail stays, publicly-funded alcohol rehabilitation programs and addiction counseling services. Other successes highlight the improvement seen in the homeless’ addiction to alcohol.

Overall, residents of the program cut their heavy drinking by 35% over a two year period. That equates to drinking 8% fewer drinks for every three months residents remained in the program. Both of these statistics are based on the heaviest drinking days.

More finite numbers further show the effectiveness of the program. On the heaviest drinking day of the month, the average number of drinks per participant dropped from 40 drinks per day to 26 per day (35%). On a typical day, participants drank 40% less; the average number of drinks dropped from 20 to 12 per day. 

Participants were also much more likely to stay in the program when alcohol was accessible to them in their own apartments. The study showed an 80% rate of retention after one year; 79% after 1.5 years; and 61% after two years.

The study proved that homeless individuals are capable of change without enforcing stringent rules about drinking in the housing program. In fact: a more lax environment encouraged the homeless to recover and to stay in the program on their own accord, which could lead to total alcohol addiction recovery.

Once the homeless were established in their own apartments and free to drink as they saw necessary, they were able to focus on alcohol rehabilitation and addiction counseling. In the Seattle-based Housing First housing initiative, residents could attend an alcohol rehabilitation and treatment service.

At the alcohol rehabilitation program and addiction counseling service center, the homeless could focus on reducing their dependence on alcohol, in their own time frame. The approach has been embraced more fully by the homeless than the abstinence programs of yesteryear.

For those who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, whether you are homeless or not, alcohol rehabilitation programs and addiction counseling can help provide you with the breakthroughs necessary to lead a less addictive lifestyle. Contact Vista Taos Addiction Counseling and inpatient treatment program today as your first step on the road to recovery.

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COVID-19 update: The health and safety of our clients at Vista Taos Renewal Center continues to be our highest priority. Due to the national rise in cases of COVID-19, all potential clients entering the Vista Taos program shall be tested for the virus and must receive their results prior to admission. Vista Taos continues to work closely with the New Mexico Department of Health, adhering to the highest standards of care for our clients, and will provide subsequent testing after admission as needed. For assistance in finding the most efficient testing sites, please contact our Director of Community Relations, Jeremy Lihte, at (575) 425-1913
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