Managed alcohol program gives homeless addicts wine as part of treatment: study

Click to play video: 'Giving wine to homeless people is beneficial: UVic researchers'
Giving wine to homeless people is beneficial: UVic researchers
WATCH: It may sound like a ridiculous idea that could only make things worse. But University of Victoria researchers say giving wine to homeless people is showing positive results. Kylie Stanton explains how it works – May 10, 2016

Abstaining is one way to deal with alcoholism but another method coming to light is raising eyebrows.

According to researchers from the University of Victoria, giving people with alcohol addictions a regular dose of wine as part of a managed recovery program improves their lives while reducing homelessness and health care costs.

The research involved two studies by the Centre of Addictions Research B.C. (CARBC) and included 15 people who were part of a shelter in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Prior to entering the program, the participants had a history of not responding well to abstinence-based programs, had several run-ins with police and resorted to consuming mouthwash, rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizer for the alcohol content while living on the streets.

Each participant was given a place to live, meals, health care, counselling, skills training, staff support and a six-ounce glass of white wine every 90 minutes from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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The results of the study showed participants had fewer incidents with police; a 70 per cent decrease in detox admissions and 47 per cent fewer hospital admissions.

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“It tends to prevent harms because people aren’t suffering harms of withdrawals, seizures, they’re able to retain their housing… and through the program, their health is monitored and assessed ongoing,” Dr. Bernie Pauly, one of the lead authors in the study told Global News.

“We’ve seen in the pilot study significant improvements in their quality of life.”

In the Lower Mainland there are a handful of Managed Alcohol Programs (MAPs) and others across Canada, which have been in operation since the 90s.

“This is alcohol harm reduction and the programs, the Managed Alcohol Programs, very much operate on harm reduction principles and look at reducing the harms of drinking,” Pauly says.

Researchers said the participants reported a sense of belonging, of having a secure home, a place where they could reconnect with family and access health services.

But recovering alcoholic Dave Boreham does not agree with this recovery approach.

Five years sober, Boreham said, “While it may sound really great on paper, it is ridiculous in a lot of ways. You’re giving an alcoholic a drink. I guarantee he’s going for more… they’re not going to be able to handle just that one drink.”

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Boreham, who manages his alcohol addiction by working the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, says “unless they’re going to house them there permanently, this is not any kind of solution.”

“This is just my opinion. You cannot feed an alcoholic alcohol and expect them to be cured. We are the greatest at fooling people and you can believe whatever you want but as soon as you let us out, if we have not worked on ourselves… we’re going back out and we’re going to be harder on our bodies and drink more than we did before.”

While the program’s researchers admit there remains challenges like the concerns Boreham raises, they did say the findings from this pilot study are “very encouraging.”

These pilot study results are part of a larger national program that the research team is currently conducting across Canada involving six MAPs and 374 participants.

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