Harm Reduction: This Shelter Gives Alcoholics Drinks Every Hour – Good Or Bad Idea?


A shelter in Ottawa Canada has a different idea of helping alcoholics, that begs the question if we have been doing the alcoholics we know a disfavor in the way that we treat them, in essence it brings up the question of harm reduction.

The Oaks shelter  is a converted hotel next to a pawnshop, in Carlington, a working-class neighborhood on the west side of Ottawa, Canada, but of course that is not what makes this particular homeless shelter interesting. The interesting thing about the Oaks is that they offer their residents who are hard core alcoholics an hourly mug of alcohol.

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While a lot of people may consider this a bad idea, it can really be related to weaning a child from breast milk. Basically these alcoholics are provided with regulated mugs of alcohol, which in their addiction, they can hardly dream of doing without, taking it in a way as their necessary food.

As that insatiable need is momentarily quelled, they are able to focus on other parts of their life, that they tune off to when they are caught up in the alcohol haze. So instead of cutting them off totally, the Oak gives them hourly rations of alcohol and if ever a particular resident gets intoxicated, they are cut off until they sober up.

Harm Reduction Is A Patience Filled Process

In this manner, at the Oaks, when residents first arrive, they tend to drink the maximum limit of seven ounces, every hour, every day in addition to whatever they can buy or shoplift outside the building, but the Oaks records a sizable amount of transition stories. The residents begin to change; stop drinking outside, begin to ask for fewer amounts of drink, skip pours or have a “special pour” of watered-down wine and one of the residents actually gave up alcohol, choosing instead to get an hourly pour of grape juice, to stay part of the group.

Harm Reduction

The results are impressive when one considers that at times alcoholism can seem like an insurmountable ordeal. This system helps loosen the alcoholic from their drinking friends, enables them eat properly and also helps them re-establish relationships with their families. One would however be safe in the assumption that the choice of the alcoholic plays a huge part in how well this system turns out. It would require an alcoholic conscious of the havoc that drink wrecks around him and his family and deciding to do something to offset it.

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Giving wine to an alcoholic that you know may seem like an outright crazy idea, but it seems to be working for the residents at the Oaks and it’s not a new idea either. The people at Oaks and any other programme like them anywhere else in the world are pretty much applying the principles of harm reduction.

Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Harm Reduction is also a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs. So what do you think, could harm reduction work for alcoholics?