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Heavy drinkers who were formerly homeless, and are provided with housing, cut down on their drinking if they are allowed access to alcohol, a new study has found.

The study followed participants in a program call Housing First, which was developed by a housing agency in Seattle. The program provides housing to chronically homeless people, and does not require that they stop drinking in order to obtain housing, according to HealthDay.

In the American Journal of Public Health, the researchers report when homeless people who were heavy drinkers were given housing and allowed to continue drinking, the average number of drinks consumed on the heaviest drinking day of the month fell from 40 to 26 over two years—a 35 percent drop. The median number of drinks fell from 22 to 11 drinks per typical drinking day—a decrease of 50 percent. Participants’ recent bouts of delirium tremens—a potentially life-threatening form of alcohol withdrawal—dropped from 65 percent to 23 percent.

“These individuals have multiple medical, psychiatric and substance abuse problems, and housing that requires them to give up their belongings, adhere to curfews, stop drinking and commit to treatment all at once is setting them up to fail. The result is that we are relegating some of the most vulnerable people in our community to a life on the streets,” lead author Susan Collins of the University of Washington said in a news release.

“A lot of people believe in the ‘enabling hypothesis’ – that allowing homeless, alcohol-dependent individuals to drink in their homes will enable them to drink more, and their drinking will spiral out of control,” Collins said. “But instead what we found are across-the-board decreases in alcohol consumption and problems.”


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