07 July 2016

An Effective Alternative to Alcohol Rehab for Lifelong Addicts?

Treatment for alcoholism usually involves a programme of detoxification followed by alcohol rehab. Detoxification is the process of quitting alcohol and then waiting until all traces of it have been removed from the body of addicts. After that, alcohol rehab can begin; it typically involves treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy, individual counselling, contingency management, 12-step work, and group therapy sessions. These treatments are all designed to help the recovering alcoholic learn as much as he/she can about their illness and move forward into sober living with all the tools necessary to prevent relapse.

Managed Alcohol Programme

However, in a residential home in Ottawa, a different kind of programme is being used to treat those with alcoholism. The Oaks is situated in a converted hotel, and the Managed Alcohol Programme is designed to change the way chronic alcoholics think about drinking. Those on the programme are given a measure of wine every hour in the hope that it will change their drinking behaviour.

Most of the men and women on the programme are middle-aged or older, and all are given a measure of wine beginning at 7.30am. The first measure is around 200 ml and every hour after that until 9.30pm they are given 140 ml.

Helping the Homeless

The BBC report on the Managed Alcohol Programme (MAP) at the Oaks revealed that the scheme was designed to help homeless alcoholics who had tried unsuccessfully to stop drinking. Elisa Pewheoalook is one resident of the programme and has been drinking since the age of thirteen. He said, “It’s not bad, the wine here. Out on the streets, I was drinking mouthwash, hairspray. It didn’t taste good, but all I wanted was the effect. I don’t drink that stuff anymore – it makes me feel sick to think of it. And I drink much less here.”

The staff at the Oaks will not provide the hourly measure of wine to anyone who appears to be intoxicated. They are instead advised to have a nap in their room. However, Lucia Ali, who works at the bar, said that this does not happen very often.

Different Approach to Alcohol Treatment

While the norm for treating alcoholism has always been detox followed by alcohol rehab, a group of health professionals decided fifteen years ago that there might be a different approach that could be used. One of the founders of MAP, Dr Jeff Turnbull, said, “The thought was that if we could stabilise the craziness of their lives, the day that begins with the search for alcohol and all the complications that occur with that, then maybe we could make inroads with their mental health, addiction to alcohol and their physical illnesses.”

Dr Turnbull, who is Ottawa Hospital’s chief of staff, said that it was an alcoholic named Eugene who proved to be the catalyst for the programme. He said, “We found him outside with frostbite. He wouldn’t stay inside during that freezing weather because of his addiction to alcohol. So we said, wouldn’t it be safer if we just got him some wine and allowed him to drink that? Eugene responded very quickly. He stayed inside the shelter, his frostbite got better and we saved his toes.”


The programme, which began in 2001, has been met with fierce criticism, with Dr Turnbull even receiving death threats. He added, “The addiction community is very divided about harm reduction. There are some proponents who feel so strongly about abstinence as the only treatment for alcoholism, they just couldn’t see an alternative.”

Contributing to the Programme

Those who are on the MAP programme contribute to their room and board and the cost of the wine through their state benefits or pensions. For them, it is a beneficial programme because they have access to alcohol at hourly intervals, and they also have somewhere to stay. On top of that, they have friends and a place to sit and relax. The Oaks has a TV room, and there is a computer provided for residents to use. Residents can also enjoy shopping trips and other outings as well as keep-fit classes.

With a place to call home, many of those on the programme are now back in contact with their families and some feel confident enough to get back to work.

Alcoholism Treatment

There are definite benefits to programmes such as MAP in terms of helping those who are living on the streets. It provides a stable and safe environment for alcoholics for whom addiction is so entrenched they are unable to fight it.

The good news is that alcoholism is a treatable illness. This does not have to be a lifelong condition as help is available. Alcohol rehab is an effective way for those suffering from alcoholism to beat their addiction and turn their lives around.

Source: Alcohol Rehab Is Treating Alcoholics with Wine (BBC)

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*Please contact your chosen centre for availability

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