A new study led by a group of University of Victoria researchers shows that people who are homeless and severely alcoholic may benefit from a program that administers regular doses of alcohol throughout the day. 

"The number of drinks per day went up, but the overall consumption went down," said lead author Bernie Pauly.

Pauly is a professor at the University of Victoria's School of Nursing and a scientist at the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia.

She says the managed alcohol program works by providing housing and administering doses of alcohol throughout the day, usually from early morning to evening.

The doses are typically one drink or six ounces of alcohol — usually red or white wine — every 90 minutes.

Pauly said the doses are tailored for the size of the person, how well and how fast they metabolize alcohol, and participants were assessed to make sure they weren't overly intoxicated.

One finding was that because people could access a safe source of alcohol, the number of people drinking non-beverage alcohol — like rubbing alcohol or mouthwash — went down.

Housing an essential component

Since the program is designed for those who have been through treatment many times and have ongoing chronic problems with homelessness, Pauly points out that housing was an essential component of the study.

Because study participants were given housing in addition to the alcohol treatment program, she says "people were no longer on the street [and] they were able to get stable in the housing environment."

In fact, people who were in the managed alcohol program did much better than the people who were in shelters and not in the program.

"They did better in terms of keeping their housing, [and had] much less use of police, health and social services."

Pauly says given the success of the pilot project, the group will be embarking on further research in a national study.

With files from CBC's On the Island


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