Colorado ranked third in the nation for alcohol-related deaths among working-age adults from 2006 to 2010, according to a national study released in June. On a local level, health professionals say alcohol abuse is a leading diagnosis at behavioral health treatment centers.
Alcohol contributed to 1,200 deaths, or 14 percent, of the total deaths of those 20 to 64 in Colorado, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. Nationally, alcohol contributed to more than 60,000 deaths in that age group.
The director of The Recovery Center in Cortez, Ann Wetton, wasn’t surprised by the statistics.
“Alcohol continues to be such a deadly substance, and there are so many people that simply can’t drink alcohol socially,” she said.
Significant losses such as a family member, employment, trauma or physiological problems among other things can lead people to turn to alcohol, she said.
Deaths in recent years show it is still a problem locally. In 2013, alcohol contributed to 52 deaths in Montezuma County, said Coroner Charlie Rosenbaugh. The bulk of these deaths were suicides, followed by car accidents, he said. So far this year alcohol has been a factor in 17 deaths, he said.
Alocohol-related deaths tended be more prevalent in the West, with New Mexico, Alaska, Colorado, Arizona and Wyoming claiming the top five spots in the U.S., according to the study.
A substance-abuse specialist at Cortez Integrated Health Care, Tharakesh Palanisamy, said there may many reasons for the trend. In these largely rural states, access to care may be a problem, there may be shame around addiction, and getting help and being open about addiction can cost some people their job or health insurance, he said.
Poverty, lax alcohol enforcement policies and liberal views about alcohol, may also contribute to this trend, Palanisamy said.
Behavioral health professionals at Cortez Integrated Health Care and The Recovery Center, who treat many patients as a condition of parole, both say that an alcohol abuse diagnosis is common among their patients.
“We treat more patients with an alcohol abuse diagnosis than any other,” said Palanisamy.
Wetton estimates that about 40 percent of the Recovery Center’s clients receive treatment for alcohol abuse.
The center sees about 120 people a month – mostly for group therapy – and many of these patients will stay in treatment for 12 to 18 months.
Over the years, the Recovery Center has shifted its model to help address a client’s trauma history.
“Often people with trauma aren’t really able to stay clean and sober until they address those old painful issues and come to some sort of resolution,” she said.
Currently, the success rate at the Recovery Center is about 63 percent. Data from Cortez Integrated Health Care was not available at press time.
To reduce the rate of these deaths and alcoholism, the CDC recommended increasing alcohol prices by raising alcohol taxes and regulating the number of liquor stores and bars in a given area.
Palanisamy said enhancing responsible beverage service by training, testing, and assisting beverage servers and retailers to develop policies to reduce intoxication and drunk driving could help.
He also suggested increasing law enforcement and sobriety checkpoints to raise the actual and perceived risk of arrest for drunken driving.