More than 1 out of 10 adults in Routt County are considered heavy drinkers

Both Routt, Moffat counties name substance abuse as a top priority in public health improvement plans

The percentage of adults in Routt County who are considered heavy alcohol drinkers is 83% higher than the overall state rate.

In Routt County, 13.2% of adults are considered heavy alcohol drinkers compared to Colorado at 7.2%, according to data compiled by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Also, the percentage of driving deaths involving alcohol in Routt County is 58%, significantly higher than 34% statewide.

Many factors contribute to alcohol-related statistics and concerns in the Yampa Valley, but area professionals say more helpful resources have become available within the last three to four years.

“There is a great recovery community in Routt County,” said Scott Kindel, executive director at the Foundry Treatment Center, an inpatient and outpatient substance abuse disorder and trauma center that opened in 2015. “Between then and now, it’s night and day.”

Kindel said Yampa Valley residents have access to a vibrant 12-step community, treatment options through the Foundry in Steamboat and Front Range Clinics in both Steamboat Springs and Craig, and nonprofit agencies such as The Health Partnership, which includes Clean and Sober support in Steamboat and Craig.

Steamboat is also home to the Travis House faith-based sober living for men, and Craig has an Oxford House location for men that offers a peer-run, self-supported recovery home.

A free, Christ-based residential treatment program for women healing from addiction, CAYA, or Come as You Are, was operating in Steamboat for four years but moved in June to Farmington, New Mexico.

Professionals working in the recovery field say heavy drinking in the Yampa Valley has been a problem for decades. Heavy drinking for men in considered more than 14 drinks per week or for women more than eight drinks per week, according to federal dietary guidelines. Colorado statewide ranks as the ninth highest in the U.S. for excessive drinking, according to the Colorado State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup.

“You see similar stats with many other resort mountain towns in Colorado,” Kindel said. “In Steamboat, it really is the combination of a resort mountain town meets a rural community and those cultural implications. A lot of the people up here are raised around alcohol; it’s completely normalized. That’s the tradition in rural ranch communities — you work hard and you play hard.”

Public health department leaders in Routt and Moffat counties both identify substance use or abuse or substance use disorder as one of four key pillars of public health concerns in their 2024-2028 Public Health Improvement Plans. The five-year plans are being submitted this summer to the Office of Public Health Practice, Planning and Local Partnerships at the state health department.

Craig resident Nele Cashmore, peer recovery specialist for The Health Partnership in Moffat County, mentioned other “whys” related to heavier alcohol use in the valley — such as the significant number of seasonal employees, a party-town vibe in Steamboat where drinking continues to be more socially acceptable, and environmental factors such as seasonal depression and geographic isolation.

SEOW published a 2023 alcohol profile that shows binge drinking is most common among ages 24-35, and hospital admissions in Colorado that are attributable to alcohol represented 8% in 2021, or 34,116 admissions.

Experts say some barriers to seeking recovery care include access to affordable health insurance and limited coverage for inpatient treatment. Kindel said stigma still plays a big role.

“One of the biggest barriers that stops people from getting help is the stigma around addiction, the misconception that it’s a moral failing rather than a disease,” said Kindel, the Foundry’s director since 2019.

Cashmore, who began her peer support role in November, plans and hosts Clean and Sober events in Craig, which follows the success of Clean and Sober Steamboat organized by Chris Ray, the Routt County peer recovery specialist for The Health Partnership.

Clean and Sober offerings from The Health Partnership include activities such as yoga classes, shown here in July 2022 at Fetcher Park in Steamboat Springs.
Eli Pace/Steamboat Pilot & Today

“I look forward to providing a space where people in recovery or those looking for support around substance use feel supported and encouraged,” Cashmore said. “By bringing likeminded individuals together, I hope to bring about change to our community that so desperately needs help with substance use and help break the stigma of addiction here in Craig by moving the needle one event, one conversation, one connection at a time.”

The Yampa Valley Community Health Needs Assessment completed in 2022, which provides a foundation for the county health improvement plans, noted that substance or drug use was considered one of the three worst health problems in the Yampa Valley by 67% of survey respondents.

Assessment survey results show respondents believe the top two risk behaviors are substance/drug misuse/abuse at 56% and alcohol misuse/abuse at 46%.

The assessment notes that alcohol and drug misuse and substance use disorders can cause direct and indirect concerns such as motor vehicle crashes, injuries, social and legal problems, impaired health, overdose deaths and babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Helpful resources

The Health Partnership, a nonprofit serving northwest Colorado, provides a list of alcohol recovery support agencies, options, groups and activities for Routt and Moffat counties under the Resources tab on its website

Routt County Recovery Resource list

Moffat County Recovery Resource list

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.