Alcoholism Mental Health Recovery Treatment

Wet House, Wet Drunk

What do they do with the hopeless, late-stage alcoholics in Minnesota? They sometimes send them to the St. Anthony Residence, which is one of five “wet-houses” in the Twin Cities area. Wet houses are residential facilities where sobriety and recovery aren’t expected. They use a “harm-reduction” model, which employs a set of strategies meant to reduce the negative effects of alcohol (homelessness, panhandling, jail, etc.). These wet houses also provide shelter, meals, and medical attention for late-stage alcoholics. Often, their modality of thought is, “It’s safer and cheaper to have these guys drinking in a controlled environment than out on the cold Minnesota streets.”  And expense certainly does motivate:  Rather than the state spending inordinate amounts of money on jails, detox, et cetera, they now share the $18,000 per year costs for room and board with Catholic Charities. Residents receive $89 a month for expenses (most of which is spent on alcohol). This is a clear savings for the state. In fact, research done regarding a similar program in Seattle and published in the American Medical Association in 2009, showed striking savings in their public spending:

“The year prior to the opening of the wet house, its 95 participants had cost the government nearly $8.2 million in policing, jail, detox and other medical spending, an average of $4,066 per person per month. But after moving into the wet house, costs were reduced to $1,492 per person monthly after six months, and to $958 after 12 months.”

Still, according to Bill Hockenberger, a recovering alcoholic who manages St. Anthony’s, three to five percent of the residents stop drinking. But I wonder if cost is really a good reason to give up on the 12-step model that has been clearly shown to work.

As I watched these interviews with some of these men today, I was struck by the textbook depiction of their addiction to alcohol. Deluded into thinking that all they’ll ever be is an alcoholic, they’ve literally thrown in the towel and succumbed to the disease. One resident says, “There’s no hope for a scoundrel like me.” Their descriptions of drinking and their corresponding alcoholism mirror the way it’s described in the “Doctor’s Opinion”: “The sensation is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one.” Many of these men were homeless and had been in and out of detox facilities and treatment centers–all resulting in relapse. Their “failure” at sobriety ultimately led them to their residency in a wet-house either via county recommendation or by a self-appointed application. Residing in a wet house may mean retaining the last shred of one’s dignity, and it also may represent the end of the line for the hopeless and often-times dying: the “unfortunates” as the Big Book describes them, those “constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.”

St. Anthony’s takes men who would otherwise be homeless and panhandling and provides them with a safe place to lay their heads…and to drink. Perhaps placing an active, low-bottom drunk in an environment which actively shows them what drinking does will bring about an awareness of the disease. There are certainly those who stay in these wet houses and choose not to drink. In fact, some even get sober and leave, though I believe those to be in the minority. Even though counseling is made available, and drinking is only allowed in one area, I’m just not convinced that sobriety is attainable when recovery is looked upon with such complacency.  Just because the alcoholic is hopeless doesn’t mean we have to become hopeless in our approach.

Related articles:

A safe place to drink, or just giving up? (

You Are Here: The ‘Wet House’ Where Alcoholics Can Keep Drinking (

At St. Paul ‘wet house,’ liquor can be their life – and death (

‘Wet Houses’: Letting Alcoholics Drink, with Surprising Results (


Addiction Recovery

Service and Recovery With Heart

As I live-tweeted Intervention last night and watched the undoing of a young lady who’d experienced excessive trauma and abandonment, resulting in drug abuse, prostitution and suicidal ideation, it got me thinking. A lot. When someone is struggling with what seems like untenable, almost Sisyphean circumstances, how do you break the barrier so they can get help? My experience with sobriety and recovery from my own trauma has shown me the mind’s utterly powerful ability to protect itself. We build walls, compartmentalize, push people away by means of anger and aggression, we isolate, act like we can “handle it,” et cetera, yet when we’re alone, we tend to crumble: we get high, we cut, we starve ourselves, we overeat, we act out sexually. It never makes the pain go away.

Image via Wikipedia

Getting sober is the the doorway into healing and positive change. It’s an opportunity to look inward and make space for restoration to occur. As I watched this young lady on Intervention come undone, I watched her family react in anger and panic. This young mother reminded me of a scared, trapped animal backed into a corner. While I’m not a therapist, or even an interventionist for that matter, I am someone with over 17 years of recovery and some significant experience in dealing with trauma. Watching that show last night reminded me how much significance there is to bringing heart into what we do in sobriety as we approach the wounded. The inherent value of heart is immeasurable.
So many of us come into the rooms of recovery with those old, mental tapes playing “It’s all your fault” on a vicious loop. One of the the toughest things I’ve had to do is learn to re-record this tape. It’s possible, it just takes a lot of time and willingness to be uncomfortable. As the Buddhists say, everything is impermanent. Yes, even that lousy feeling in the pit of your stomach or the craving for drugs and alcohol. It passes. If we’re willing to allow it.

Addiction Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic Doesn’t Mean Safe

Sometimes marketed as incense or an herbal smoking blend, synthetic marijuana is readily available for teens via the internet and some drug paraphernalia shops.  Rather than banning the products themselves (Spice, K2, Blaze, and Red X Dawn), the FDA is seeking to ban the 5 chemicals used to create the herbal blends. The FDA wants to place the chemicals in the same category as heroin and cocaine, due to increased reports of  seizures, dependency of poison centers, hallucinations, hospitals, and law enforcement as a result of its use.

Synthetic or not, it’s still a drug, and it still has the potential to contribute to one’s addiction issues. Sprayed with psychotropic chemicals, this herbal and spice mixture is touted as providing users with an elevated, meditative state, similar to the effect found with marijuana use. However, instead of the alleged mellow effects sought by its users, the statistics show high reports of heightened blood pressure, high levels of anxiety, seizures, nausea, severe agitation, and hallucinations.  While more testing is needed, findings suggest this drug is effecting not only the cardiovascular system, but also the central nervous system of its users. In plain speak: it’s dangerous.

Are you worried your kid might be using? If so, you might want to look for dried herbs in unlikely places…their room, for instance, or their backpacks. What does a teen really want with something that looks like oregano, right? You can also look for some of these physical signs:

  • Agitation
  • Pale appearance
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion.

It’s good the FDA is taking a stance on this–between the ease of availability and the implication of harmlessness, we place our kids and ourselves at heightened risk for the long-term, negative effects of yet another drug.

Addiction ADHD Mental Health

ADD and ADHD Prescription Drug Abuse

Just about anyone you talk to knows someone who has been diagnosed with ADHD. It makes you wonder how many people out there have it, but haven’t been diagnosed. I know that I have some of the textbook symptoms (ooh, look outside, the wind is blowing!). Recent research indicates that ADHD afflicts between eight and twelve percent of children and four percent of adults worldwide (August 27, 2009, Medscape Medical News). With an increase in diagnoses of ADHD there are increased prescriptions to treat ADHD. And yes, you guessed it; with increased prescriptions there are more cases of prescription-drug-abuse.

Prescription drug abuse as a whole is on the rise. It’s not surprising that ADHD meds, some of which are stimulant-based, are some of the most commonly abused. The same article from Medscape Medical News reported that 20-30% with a substance abuse diagnosis also have an ADHD diagnosis. It makes sense that adolescents with addictive traits would abuse their ADHD meds.

Teens are misusing their prescriptions in different ways. They take more than the indicated dose and many crush the pills up and snort them because that disables the time- release component in the pill. Some kids “cheek” or horde their meds for later use if their parents or a medical professional monitors their dose. Others trade their pills for other drugs, such as marijuana or cocaine. There are many stimulant-based meds for the treatment of ADHD out there, some of which are: Adderal, vivance, Dexadrine, Ritalin, and Concerta. Some psychiatrists prescribe Strattera as an alternative for teens that are prone to stimulant abuse.

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