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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Social characteristics of the skid row alcoholic : a survey of the characteristics and needs of a group of alcoholics living on Skid Row, Vancouver, B.C., 1960 Cameron, Ronald Lloyd


The problem of alcoholism is a major health concern in many countries of the world. The "skid row" alcoholic represents a minority of all alcoholics and shows deterioration to the extreme. This study is a survey of a group of "hard core" alcoholics who live in the downtown area of Vancouver, B.C. While recognizing the importance of physiological, psychological and psychiatric factors, the study evaluates the problem mainly within a sociological frame of reference. In particular, the concept of "retreatism" as set forth by R.K. Merton is related to specific characteristics of the skid row alcoholic's social functioning. The chief source of the data used is the records kept by the Vancouver City jail for the year I960 and before. These data are limited to such factors as age, education, and marital status. Consequently, evaluation of the data is limited to establishing the fact of retreatism and relating this to possible etiological factors in the light of information from other studies. A survey of treatment facilities and resources available to the skid row alcoholic illustrates a negative community attitude toward the problem. It is noted that while the public attitude toward alcoholism as a medical and social problem is changing, this is not reflected in services provided. Both government and private agencies regard the skid row alcoholic as "hopeless", and no coordinated program is in operation. Evaluation of the study indicates that while the facts do not serve as "proof" of Merton's theory, they appear to be consistent with the formulation of the phenomena of retreatism, and imply a need for further detailed research. Further, the results are compared with similar studies and appear to be sufficiently consistent to indicate that the skid row alcoholic represents a national problem which is costly and wasteful of human resources. The greatest need is for proper assessment, combined with long-term treatment and rehabilitation facilities, to supplant the present "revolving door" policies. Prerequisite to this, public education must be accelerated, since changes in community attitudes are needed if the skid row alcoholic is to be regarded as the product of cultural inadequacies and not simply as example of individual "moral weakness".

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