First, ‘methadone maintenance’; now, ‘beer maintenance’?

Use of methadone to help keep heroin addicts off of smack has always had some degree of controversy.

But, given that the amount of heroin addicts is far less than the number of alcoholics, methadone maintenance is surely far less controversial, or scary, than beer maintenance for alcoholic drinkers, I would think. Nonetheless, just that thing is being tried in …. where else, one might say? … Amsterdam.

After more than a decade out of work because of a back injury and chronic alcoholism, Fred Schiphorst finally landed a job last year and is determined to keep it. He gets up at 5:30 a.m., walks his dog and then puts on a red tie, ready to clean litter from the streets of eastern Amsterdam. …

His workday begins unfailingly at 9 a.m. — with two cans of beer, a down payment on a salary paid mostly in alcohol. He gets two more cans at lunch and then another can or, if all goes smoothly, two to round off a productive day.

“Interesting,” to say the least. It’s a partnership between the Dutch government and a nonprofit group.

The program, started last year by the Rainbow Foundation, a private but mostly government-funded organization that helps the homeless, drug addicts and alcoholics get back on their feet, is so popular that there is a long waiting list of chronic alcoholics eager to join the beer-fueled cleaning teams.

Oh, I’m sure it’s popular. It also perpetuates an old stereotype, which likely adds to the problem, rather than helping solve it:

One of the project’s most enthusiastic supporters is Fatima Elatik, district mayor of eastern Amsterdam. As a practicing Muslim who wears a head scarf, Ms. Elatik personally disapproves of alcohol but says she believes that alcoholics “cannot be just ostracized” and told to shape up. It is better, she said, to give them something to do and restrict their drinking to a limited amount of beer with no hard alcohol.

But, alcohol is alcohol, whether in beer, wine or spirits.

The second page of the story gets at the heart of the city’s stance, with this quote:

“It would be beautiful if they all stopped drinking, but that is not our main goal,” (Hans Wijnands, the director of the Rainbow Foundation) added. “You have to give people an alternative, to show them a path other than just sitting in the park and drinking themselves to death.”

The low success rate of Moderation Management, and of individuals trying to moderate on their own, indicates this is likely to be a big fat flop. It would be one thing if they got a beer or two after work, but, before the start of work? As I see it, that’s encouraging them to come to work hung over, just for the hair of the dog.

That’s confirmed by one employee’s discussion of his own drinking:

Ramon Smits, a member of Mr. Schiphorst’s team, said he used to knock back a bottle and more of whiskey or rum each day but now sticks to beer, consuming five cans a day at work and then another five or so in his free time. An immigrant from the former Dutch colony of Suriname, Mr. Smits said the project had not only helped him cut down his daily alcohol intake but also raised his self-esteem. “It keeps me away from trouble, and I’m doing something useful,” he said. “I help myself, and I help my community.”

If that’s harm reduction, the amount of reduction doesn’t seem that good. And, who knows how long it will last? Or when the two morning beers aren’t  enough “hair of the dog” for the lingering hangover? Or when someone gets hurt on the job due to inebriation?


  1. Jack Pollard on December 16, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    I’m wondering about their consumption after work and on days off? This doesn’t sound like it’s going to do much good..Maybe for the 8 hours or so they are employed, but, I’d bet all hell breaks loose later on..I wonder if they have any stats. on this? It is interesting..Wouldn’t work for me, i know..But…ya never know..Thanks Jackie

  2. Mary Shortell on December 5, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Oh, what a great idea! Only a non-alcoholic could see any wisdom in this hair-brained practice. 🙂