Controversies in Care| Volume 22, ISSUE 1, P9-14.e1, January 2021

Use of Alcohol in Long Term Care Settings: A Comparative Analysis of Personal Choice, Public Health Advice and the Law

Published:September 23, 2020DOI:


      Alcohol is one of the most widely available psychoactive substances globally. Many accept the risks associated with alcohol consumption for reasons such as social engagement and feelings of pleasure. Alcohol consumption in a nursing home (NH) setting highlights the moral and logistical challenges of balancing the need for a safe living and working environment with the dignity of risk (DoR) and personal autonomy of residents.
      This analysis explores public health, human rights, and legal frameworks in their approach to a NH resident's choice to drink alcohol. Key issues under the public health framework include the medical risks associated with alcohol consumption, whether residents with impaired cognitive functioning have the capacity to make a decision about alcohol consumption, and the practical and ethical implications of supplying alcohol to residents. Under a legal framework, NHs must consider the legal imperative to respect residents' rights, the possibility of liability in negligence, duties owed to employees, the existence of substitute decision-makers, and liquor licensing laws. Fundamental considerations under the human rights framework include the damaging psychological effects of risk-avoidance and the importance of inclusive risk assessment processes.
      Alcohol policies should incorporate elements from all 3 frameworks. There is limited data publicly available about alcohol policies in NHs. Further research is needed to establish current practice and to evaluate the merits and disadvantages of different policies. Establishing inclusive and thorough decision-making processes is key to achieving better consumer-directed care.


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