THURSDAY, Jan. 19, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Allowing homeless people who are heavy drinkers to consume alcohol when they were provided with housing actually decreased their heavy drinking by more than one-third over two years, a new study has found.
The study, published in the Jan. 19 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, included residents of a program called project-based Housing First, which was developed by the Downtown Emergency Service Center, a housing agency in Seattle.
Project-based Housing First provides immediate and permanent housing within a single housing project to chronically homeless people. The program is considered "low-barrier" because it doesn't impose some of the traditional rules associated with housing for homeless people, such as no drinking.
Among heavy drinkers who were provided with housing under the program, the average number of drinks consumed on the heaviest drinking day of the month fell from 40 to 26 over two years, a decrease of 35 percent.
The median number of drinks went from 22 to 11 drinks per typical drinking day, a 50 percent drop. The median number of drinks is a more accurate view of drinking patterns for the participants in the study, according to the University of Washington researchers.
The investigators also found that participants reporting recent bouts of delirium tremens -- a potentially life-threatening form of alcohol withdrawal -- fell from 65 percent to 23 percent during the two-year study.
"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," lead author Susan Collins, a research assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said in a university news release. "But instead what we found are across-the-board decreases in alcohol consumption and problems," she noted.
While many people believe that chronically homeless people with severe alcohol problems can't control themselves or monitor their drinking, these study findings show that they are "human beings who are capable of change if they are given the same chance as the rest of us," Collins added.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness has more about homelessness.