Denver, CO

Does Denver have a drinking problem?

David Heitz

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When it comes to people who drink in Denver, I have seen some hot messes.

I’ve seen young women lose their dinner after stumbling down 16th Street mall. I’ve seen cocky muscle-heads trying to be macho and pick fights with one another outside the bars near Coors Field.

And an assortment of other drunks line the streets of Denver’s downtown on any given day. For some, it appears all they have is alcohol.

Denver is well-known for marijuana. It gives new meaning to the term Rocky Mountain High. But does Denver also have a drinking problem?

“With alcohol abuse, we see increased violence in the form of assaults, motor vehicle accidents, scooter accidents, auto-pedestrian accidents and falls, which are associated with people drinking excessively,” said James Robinson, assistant chief, Denver Health Paramedic Division, in a news release. “On Friday and Saturday nights, we see a lot of assaults by people coming out of bars, and in winter, we see hypothermia: people drink too much, don’t recognize how cold they are and sometimes pass out in the snow.”

The binge drinking capital of America

The city recently received the dubious distinction of being the nation’s binge drinker capitol. The Online Betting Guide bestowed Denver the honor.

The Denver sub-Reddit also makes it quite obvious that alcohol is revered in the mile-high city. Colorado is known for all types of beer, from Coors to craft.

Denver loves its beer. But does Denver love its beer a little too much?

The Public Health Institute at Denver Health in 2019 revealed Denver indeed has a binge-drinking problem – 27 percent of adult Denverites imbibe to extremes at times.

“What’s more, the people who drink excessively in Denver make up a greater portion of the adult population than in any other comparable Western city,” according to a Denver Health news release. “And while the health effects of alcohol are common knowledge, experts say that in Denver, proven strategies to limit alcohol use are underutilized.”

Alcohol is everywhere in Denver

“Most of us use alcohol – we’re very familiar with it, hence we don’t see it,” Dr. Bill Burman, executive director of Denver Public Health, said. “But let me be clear: Denver has a drinking problem.”

No community benefits from alcoholism. But Denver is an especially bad place to drink.

For starters, the altitude may worsen the effects of alcohol. It is important to stay hydrated in the mile-high city. Alcohol and altitude dehydrate.

It’s also a bad idea to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana at the same time. This can lead to further dehydration.

A legend in Durango is that tourists get drunk early in the morning and then head into the mountains. Some never come back, the legend goes.

Mile-high city considered alcohol friendly

Denver is friendly to the alcohol industry. That should not be a surprise given that Coors is headquartered in the Denver suburb of Golden.

“While the consequences of alcohol misuse are grave, the issue is often overlooked or ignored,” according to the Denver Health news release.

“With overfamiliarity, you stop seeing the problem,” said Dr. Bill Burman, executive director of Denver Public Health, in the news release. “Coors Field, tailgating, the Great American Beer Festival, the rise of microbreweries and micro-distilleries – even a new exhibit at the history museum celebrate Denver’s connection to alcohol.”

Denver’s sobriety resources inadequate

Denver is known as a drug- and alcohol-friendly city, according to Denver Public Health, but “we are not addiction sympathetic,” said Julie Taub, a hospitalist with Denver Health, in the news release. “The state’s resources for addiction treatment are inadequate, and of the treatments that are available, many are not evidence-based.”

Colorado ranks 46th among the states in taxes on beer and 47th in taxes on spirits, according to the Tax Foundation.

“We as a community can do something about alcohol misuse,” Burman stressed in a statement. “We can prevent many of the acute and chronic effects of alcohol on health through better identification and treatment, environmental controls and heightened public awareness.”

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO
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