A new study has found that homeless alcoholics typically began drinking as children.
According to study author Dr. Ryan McCormack of New York University School of Medicine in New York, N.Y., 100 percent of the patients enrolled in the study at Bellevue Hospital in New York City began drinking as children, becoming alcohol-dependent soon after.
“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,” he said.
“Most do not come to my ER voluntarily, but end up there because of public intoxication. The majority of patients in this study consistently left the hospital prior to the completion of medical care.”
For the study, McCormack and his research team interviewed 20 homeless, alcohol-dependent patients who had four or more annual visits to Bellevue Hospital’s emergency department for two consecutive years.
They found that all began drinking in childhood or adolescence, and 13 reported having alcoholic parents. Of the 20, 13 reported abuse in their childhood homes, while 19 were either forced to or chose to leave home by age 18.
Only one was married. None was employed. The three who were military veterans said that military life amplified their alcohol use, the researchers report.
For all 20, alcoholism was cited as the primary reason for living on the street. According to the researchers, 11 had definitive psychiatric diagnoses in the psychotic, mood, or anxiety spectrums. All 20 reported having entered detoxification programs at some point in the past.
Within a year of being interviewed for the study, 25 percent of the patients had died as a direct result of their alcoholism from liver or lung cancer, vehicular trauma, assault or hypothermia, the researchers noted.
“As their capacity to envision a future diminishes, they increasingly lose motivation for personal recovery,” said McCormack.
“An alcoholic is first a human being. We hypothesize that more accessible, lower-barrier, patient-centered interventions that support alcohol harm reduction and quality of life improvement can be translated into the emergency department setting and this population.”
The study was published in Annals of Emergency Medicine.