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Utah drugs and alcohol: How big is the problem and what you can do

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This story is sponsored by Acqua Recovery. Learn more about Acqua Recovery.

If you’ve watched the news or seen a billboard on the freeway lately, you’ve probably heard: Utah has a drug problem.

But it may surprise you to learn just how bad the problem is.

While the opioid crisis affects the nation at large, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Utah’s drug overdose mortality rate was higher than the national average.

In fact, prescription drug overdoses cause more deaths in Utah than firearms, falls and motor vehicle crashes, according to the Utah Department of Health. From 2013-15, Utah ranked No. 7 in deaths from prescription drug overdoses.

But opioids aren’t the only issue. Despite its label as a “stone cold sober” state, Utah also ranked seventh in the nation for the number of alcohol poisoning deaths. And Utah was recently cited as one of the three states with the highest level of depression, according to a 2018 study by Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Today virtually every family in Utah knows someone with a drug or alcohol problem. The crisis is huge, but not hopeless.

Here’s what you can do to help.

Treatment options

Many kinds of treatment are available, but there is no quick fix when it comes to drug addiction.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse classifies drug addiction as a “chronic disease” that requires long-term or repeated care in order for individuals to successfully stop using drugs.

Among many successful treatment options, the NIDA recommends the following:

  • Behavioral counseling
  • Medication
  • Medical devices and applications used to treat withdrawal symptoms or deliver skills training
  • Evaluation and treatment for co-occurring mental health issues such as depression and anxiety
  • Long-term follow-up to prevent relapse

Because there is no one-size-fits-all solution, treatment will vary from person to person, depending on his or her needs and circumstances. However, attending to both the medical and mental health needs of an addict is crucial in helping a person toward full recovery.


Helping to get the addictive substance out of a person’s system is the first step in recovery. While the NIDA makes it clear that detoxification itself isn’t a treatment, it’s a necessary step in helping a person to overcome addiction.

Depending on the substance in question, certain medications may be prescribed to help suppress withdrawal symptoms and the urge to relapse. Over time, these medications are tapered down until the patient is no longer physically dependent on the drug.

Additionally, medication may be prescribed for co-occurring conditions such as depression and anxiety that may contribute to a person’s addiction.

Residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation

If an addiction is particularly severe or is accompanied with co-occurring conditions, it may require inpatient rehabilitation services.

In this setting, licensed residential treatment facilities offer 24-hour care and medical attention in an environment designed to help individuals separate themselves from the triggers associated with addiction and to give them the tools for self understanding, self-reliance and preparing them for a smooth transition into drug-free life after treatment.

A strong residential drug or alcohol treatment program will involve one-on-one therapy, group therapy, life skills training, family therapy and recreational therapy. It will also include recovery coaching to help an addict overcome the trauma and mental and physical addictions that are part of this disease.

Outpatient behavioral treatment

Outpatient behavioral treatment involves many of the same forms of treatment as inpatient facilities, but patients are allowed to live at home during the recovery process.

Advice for loved ones

For friends and family, helping loved ones overcome addiction requires love and support above all else.

If someone close to you suffers from drug addiction, remember you are not alone and help is available. The road to addiction recovery isn’t easy, but with the right resources, it’s possible.

According to Clint Tolman, Acqua’s executive director, "Sometimes the first step — making the call to seek help for yourself or a loved one — is incredibly scary. But please know there are hundreds of empathetic and skilled professionals, many of them in recovery themselves, who are there for one reasons only: to work with you to find the help you need."

For more information and to get the support you need, call or visit Acqua Recovery today.