The State of Addiction Treatment in Colorado

Drug and alcohol addiction continues to be a major public health issue in Colorado. While treatment options exist, information on how to access them doesn’t always reach those in need. This has left many struggling with substance use unable to access the care they require.

The severity of alcohol misuse, in particular, has reached crisis levels, with Colorado experiencing some of the highest rates of alcohol-related deaths in the country. At NorthStar Transitions, we’re exploring drinking and drug use in the Centennial State and how the escalating problem of alcoholism has been largely overlooked despite the harm it causes. 

Drug & Alcohol Use In Colorado

Alcohol consumption is a significant problem in Colorado. The state sees an alarming number of fatalities linked to alcohol, experiencing 26.5 deaths per 100,000 people, according to data from the KFF — the sixth highest in the nation. This worrisome trend encompasses not only acute incidents of alcohol poisoning and accidents but also deaths from long-term health issues like liver disease, heart disease and certain cancers.  

The severity of Colorado’s drinking problem has become more pronounced recently, with alcohol-related deaths increasing by a staggering 60% between 2018 and 2021. These rates fell slightly the next year, but alcohol fatalities still remain 50% higher than pre-COVID-19 levels, killing more than 1,500 Coloradans in 2022. This is fewer than the number of people who have died of drug overdoses — 1,799 — but once you factor in deaths caused by the long-term complications of heavy drinking, alcohol’s yearly toll is estimated to be at least twice that high.

Despite alcohol-related deaths being on par with those caused by opioids, they have garnered less attention from the news, media and lawmakers. The dramatic rise in fentanyl overdoses has spurned a sense of urgency that we just haven’t seen when it comes to drinking deaths. This discrepancy highlights a critical gap in public and government responses to different substances, underscoring the need for a more balanced approach to all forms of addiction.

What’s Driving Alcohol-Related Deaths?

Unlike other drugs, alcohol is more likely to kill you slowly. Colorado’s reported 1,547 drinking deaths is a narrowly defined figure that only includes organ damage and complications from withdrawal, but chronic drinking can lead to potentially fatal medical concerns that develop gradually. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), there are more than 200 health conditions associated with heavy drinking, such as:

  • Unintentional injuries (motor vehicle crashes, falls, drowning, etc.)
  • Alcohol poisoning and overdose 
  • Cardiac issues, such as heart disease and high blood pressure
  • Complications from alcohol withdrawal
  • Endocrine system disturbances 
  • Several different types of cancer (colon, pancreatic, throat, etc.)
  • Liver disease, pancreatitis and digestive issues
  • Neurological issues that affect memory and learning
  • Mental and behavioral health concerns (depression, anxiety, polysubstance use, etc.)
  • Inflammation and a weakened immune system
  • Risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders
  • Fertility issues for both men and women

A single, higher-than-expected dose of a drug like fentanyl can kill almost immediately, but alcohol use can take decades to claim someone’s life. The slow, chronic health deterioration caused by heavy drinking makes alcohol-related deaths harder to track than drug overdoses, but the 60% spike between 2018 and 2021 indicates that it has become a serious problem. 

Increased isolation, stress and a lack of community support during the COVID-19 pandemic likely played a significant role in Colorado’s surging alcohol-related deaths, but mental health conditions are also major contributors to drinking and drug use. People often self-medicate with substances to cope with stress, trauma and difficult emotions, a harmful practice that increases the risk of addiction and provides temporary relief at the cost of your well-being. In 2022, Colorado was ranked as the worst state for adult mental health by Mental Health America, thanks to a high prevalence of mental illness and less access to care. 

What Are Lawmakers Doing?

When fentanyl deaths began to rise, lawmakers jumped into action. In 2018, the Colorado General Assembly reauthorized the Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force (SATF) for a period of 10 years, which brings together the state government, local governments and the private sector to address substance use issues in Colorado. The SATF aims to do the following:

  • Assist communities in implementing the most effective models and practices for substance use prevention, intervention and treatment
  • Promote public awareness of emerging substance use problems in the state
  • Protect children from drug and alcohol use and its effects
  • Measure and evaluate the progress of substance use treatment and prevention methods

While the state has taken steps to address the opioid epidemic, responses to growing alcohol-related deaths have been tepid. In fact, even as drinking deaths increase, Colorado lawmakers are ready to make alcohol more accessible with policy changes. Senate Bill 24-020, for example, seeks to permanently legalize to-go alcohol orders and home delivery from liquor stores after it was temporarily allowed during the pandemic. No new taxes or restrictions on alcohol sales have been proposed either, which are proven to reduce excessive drinking

Furthermore, Governor Jared Polis has gone on record saying that he considers alcohol use to be a matter of personality responsibility and has done little to address this escalating public health crisis. Many advocates have argued for a more structured approach to alcohol prevention and treatment, stressing that comprehensive community support and legislative action are essential to make significant progress in combating the state's alarming drinking problem.

With lawmakers turning a blind eye to the harms of alcohol use, it falls to addiction treatment providers like NorthStar Transitions to help fill the gap and meet the overwhelming demand for help and support. Too many Coloradans struggling with alcohol use disorders have nowhere to turn for the comprehensive, evidence-based treatment they desperately need.

Where to Turn for Help?

Finding help for drug and alcohol use can feel daunting, especially in a state where the demand for high-quality treatment programs surpasses the available resources. That’s why NorthStar Transitions is dedicated to providing comprehensive, accessible and evidence-based care that can help individuals overcome addiction and start building a brighter future for themselves.  

At NorthStar Transitions, we understand the complexities of addiction and offer a range of flexible treatment options tailored to each client’s specific needs. It all starts with an initial assessment to help us better understand your substance use history, addiction severity, mental health status and potential challenges that could affect your recovery, allowing us to recommend the best level of care and create a deeply personalized treatment plan just for you.

Our multidisciplinary team of addiction specialists combines a range of holistic and evidence-based practices to help each individual develop the coping skills they need to stay sober. This includes behavioral and experiential therapies, counseling, psychiatric care, peer support and other proven treatment methods. Some of the techniques we use include:

We also prioritize treating any co-occurring mental health conditions simultaneously through integrated dual-diagnosis programs. This comprehensive, mind-body approach gives clients the tools to address the factors underlying their addiction for improved treatment outcomes.

Get Help Today

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction in Colorado, it's time to get comprehensive professional help. At NorthStar Transitions, our evidence-based treatment programs provide the individualized care you need to get sober and build a strong foundation for lasting recovery. Start regaining your health, happiness and freedom today by calling our admissions team at (866) 407-2240 or completing our online contact form.

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