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Study illustrates plight of homeless alcoholics

June 27, 2014
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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A study published online this week in the Annals of Emergency Medicine painted a stark picture of the insidious nature of alcohol use and family dysfunction in the life histories of homeless alcoholics.

Based on interviews with 20 individuals who were frequent users of emergency services at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, the study found that all of the homeless alcoholic adults had begun drinking in childhood or adolescence. In addition, 13 said they had alcoholic parents and 13 said they had experienced childhood abuse.

Three of the persons interviewed were military veterans, and each of them said that their life in the military had amplified their alcohol use.

In the most poignant reminder of the overall group's struggles, one-quarter of the interviewed individuals died within a year of the initial interview, from alcoholism-related causes such as liver cancer, vehicular trauma and hypothermia.

“For people who have homes and jobs, it is difficult to imagine the level of despair these people experience day in and day out, or the all-consuming focus on getting the next drink that overrides even the most basic human survival instinct,” said study author Ryan McCormack, MD, of the New York University School of Medicine.

The study paper recommends engaging these individuals in the emergency setting with low-barrier, patient-centered interventions that support alcohol harm reduction and improved quality of life.