Michelle Tessier, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — There was a time when Robert Fones started the day buying two bottles of cheap vodka: a pint and half-gallon.
He'd chug the pint so he could start the day anesthetized against intense pain, loss and anxiety. For the remaining hours of the day, he would nurse the half-gallon bottle until he went to bed. The next day, if he had the money, he'd get up and do it again, Fones said.
There have also been times that he's woken up in Volunteers of America-Utah's Adult Detoxification Center unaware how he got there, except for the public intoxication citations in his pocket.
After a couple of years of sobriety, Fones is back in VOA's treatment programs, intent on staying clean.
"I'd like to make it," said Fones, 53. "I'm at an age I've got to get something set."
Statistically speaking, the odds of living long and living well are stacked against people who use alcohol excessively. A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report says excessive alcohol use — which includes binge drinking and drinking too much over the years — accounts for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults ages 20-64.
Excessive drinking resulted in 88,000 deaths per year from 2006 to 2010, both from ill health suffered from drinking too much over the years contributing to breast cancer, liver disease and heart disease, to injuries, violence, alcohol poisoning, or motor vehicle accidents that occurred when drinking excessively in a short periods of time. Seventy percent of the deaths involved males, the report said.
New Mexico had the highest death rate due to excessive drinking — 51 deaths per 100,000 population — while New Jersey had the lowest at 19.1.
Utah had one of the lower rates at 22.9 per 100,000 population, but it was still higher than five other states. According to the study, 10.5 percent of all deaths of Utahns ages 20-64 between 2006 and 2010 could be attributed to excessive consumption of alcohol.
"I thought it would have been higher," Fones said.
While drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine are at the forefront of the public conscience, more people seek treatment for alcoholism than any other addiction, said Andrew Johnston, VOA-Utah's director of residential services.
"Because it is legal to buy it, we don't talk that much about it. But it's what we see most at the detox," Johnston said.
Most of the clients of detoxification centers are men ages 40 to 60, many of whom have been alcoholics for at least 20 years.
But one of the fastest-growing segments of people seeking treatment are young women, "and they're being marketed heavily" by beer and spirits makers, Johnston said.
Some working-age people drink to cope with stress of their jobs and busy lives, he said. Some develop psychological and physical addictions to alcohol.
"Your brain and your body are following the addiction. It's not a matter of having willpower to stop," Johnston said.
Excessive drinking includes binging on four or more drinks on an occasion for women and five or more drinks on an occasion for men. Heavy drinking is defined as eight or more drinks a week for women, 15 or more a week for men and any alcohol use by pregnant women or those under the legal drinking age.
“Excessive alcohol use is a leading cause of preventable death that kills many Americans in the prime of their lives,” said Ursula E. Bauer, the CDC's director of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “We need to redouble our efforts to implement scientifically proven public health approaches to reduce this tragic loss of life and the huge economic costs that result.”
Fones said he has experienced the rewards of living sober and the loss of relationships, jobs and opportunity while abusing alcohol.
He counts himself fortunate that he is alive and in relatively good health.
"It just shows the Lord grants us blessings in different ways," he said.
Fones said he is unclear why his life has been spared, but he intends to help others experience rich lives as sober men and women.
"(VOA) has helped me get out of the hole I was digging," he said of his ongoing recovery. "Some of the people here have been like family to me."
While alcohol has been a crutch for Fones' social anxiety, it has made a mess of other aspects of his life, he said.
When he sees other people come into VOA's detox center, he is reminded of his past "and what an idiot I was."
On Friday, Fones visited the state's vocational rehabilitation office. There is funding that will help him train for a new career. He wants to be a diesel mechanic.
"They're willing to help me pay for the new glasses and new teeth," he said.
More important, they're offering him a fresh start.
"I want life. There's just too much beauty out there and things I haven't done yet I hope to get an opportunity to do," Fones said.
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