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How Do You Feel About Letting Alcoholics Drink Themselves to Death?

A program in Minnesota says that sometimes the best treatment for addiction is no treatment at all.

In Minnesota they've got a new idea about how to treat alcoholics. Actually, "treat" is the wrong word. Instead, as is described in the latest New York Times Magazine, Minnesota allows its alcoholics to slowly drink themselves to death in so-called "wet houses." What do you think about that?

It sounds inhumane, but before you protest, note that the reality is some addicts are very unlikely to ever get better. With that being a fact, then consider that homeless people are better off themselves—and less costly to society—when they're given a place to rest their heads. This is especially true for homeless people with illnesses, who rely on taxpayers to provide their emergency room visits.

Addicts in Minnesota's wet houses cost about $18,000 annually to house and feed, a cost that's split between the state and Catholic Charities USA. The people in the homes are also provided an $89 a month allowance, most of which goes toward alcohol. It may seem counterintuitive, but caregivers at the wet houses estimate that many of the alcoholics under their watch drink less than they would on the street. That said, they're still drinking until they're drunk every day.

Also counterintuitive, however, is that some residents of the wet houses end up getting better. Bill Hockenberger, a former alcoholic who's now in charge of the St. Anthony wet house, says about 3 to 5 percent of the alcoholics there kick drinking, despite the fact that they're allowed to drink all day if they'd like. Alas, most of the people in the wet houses don't quit drinking, and some believe they're going to die in there. Still, according to one of the residents interviewed by the Times, "If I’m going to die, I don’t want it to be under a bridge."

photo via Flickr user Violette79

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