Alcohol Death Rates: Stopping the Continued Rise of Alcohol-Related Deaths in New Mexico

I guess quitting this week was not meant to be. I want to give this a real try, but man… the beers take the edge off so well after that long day of work.

Tomorrow is a new day to try again. I do need a couple of more beers just for tonight though, because those three were not quite enough. So I’ll walk around the corner to the liquor store and grab a few for tonight, and then tomorrow is a new day.


Too good to pass up, I have to take advantage.

I’ll just get through these, and we can start fresh on Sunday.

It’s been a difficult week. The thoughts about Jason’s wreck keep coming to mind. Maybe if he would have just taken the back roads instead of jumping on I-25 things would have been different? Maybe I should have spoken up and told him not to drive home that night.

I got through those beers in two days, but I want to stick to this detox. I have to get better, because I think Stephanie might leave me if I don’t. Plus I would hate to put my friends through what I felt when Jason passed.

This is a scenario that thousands throughout New Mexico who are battling an alcohol use disorder face. The reality of continuing alcohol use at the rate you currently struggle with is concerning and causes you to fear for your own future—but the urge to continue your habits makes it feel impossible to tame.

You have seen friends and family saddened by your struggle with alcohol while you are currently trying to cope with losing friends from the exact same battle. The urge to come home and start fresh and get better is there, however, but there needs to be something more to put your life on the path to recovery.

Alcohol Deaths: Leading the Country in the Worst Possible Way

At this point, it feels like everybody knows somebody that has lost their life because of alcohol consumption. If you have been directly affected by seeing the loss of your brother, sister, mother, father, aunt, or uncle you are unfortunately one of many in the Land of Enchantment.

In all likelihood, if you are a New Mexican, you know someone directly affected by an alcohol-related death.

Since 1981 New Mexico has been among the top three states each year in alcohol-related deaths. These deaths range from long-term effects of alcohol use such as liver and heart disease all the way to immediate effects such as traffic accidents and suicide.

On average, four people die daily as a result of alcohol consumption. From 2017 to 2018 alone, deaths from alcohol use rose six percent. 

Across the United States, 1 in 10 deaths are attributed to alcohol in working-age adults. The ratio in New Mexico is 1 in 6. The ratio in New Mexico’s hardest hit counties like McKinley and Rio Arriba is a staggering 1 in 4. In 2015, 92 people passed away in McKinley County alone with their death being attributed to alcohol use. 

How the Land of Enchantment Made It Here

Why and how has the state of New Mexico found itself in this situation? The answer is incredibly complex and there are no clear answers. In reality, many factors contribute to the rise and continued presence of alcohol-related deaths in the state.

A few of the many factors leading to high numbers of alcohol-related deaths are the instances of drunk driving in New Mexico, the prevalence of alcohol use disorder in the Native American community, and high density of alcohol outlets.

Drinking Excessive Alcohol and Driving

You have almost certainly been scrolling through Facebook or Twitter in recent months and see the advertisements and calls from the state of New Mexico to end drunk driving.


Despite the state’s efforts with the ENDWI campaign that began in 2012, New Mexico remains in a struggle with the number of deaths from impaired driving. In 2019, the state ranks fifth worst among the United States for deaths involving impaired driving. In the first five months of 2020, there were 33 more killed. In 2019, a total of 173 alcohol-related fatalities occurred as a result of drunk driving.

When looking at laws, you will not find the answers to New Mexico’s drinking and driving problems. The state’s legal limit for operating a vehicle is a .08 blood alcohol level, similar to many other states. The answers lie in the land itself. Drinking and driving has been found in research to be much more common in rural areas of the country, and 99.3 percent of New Mexico is rural. 

While it is clear that drinking and driving is more prevalent in rural areas, little is known about why that is. Research has shown though, that individualism, reputation, and geography all play factors in the likelihood of young and working-aged adults driving under the influence.

“It is quite possible that the higher rates (of alcohol-related deaths) in states of the Southwest, like New Mexico, is higher because of the rates of drinking and driving in rural communities,” Dr. Karen Van Gundy of the University of New Hampshire Sociology Department said.

“Hearing that New Mexico is more than 99 percent rural and having read research about drinking and driving in rural communities, it makes sense that the alcohol-related death totals could be higher from instances of drinking and driving,” Dr. Van Gundy said.

Prevalence of Use Related to Native American Culture

Many researchers, including Van Gundy in her research into substance use in rural America, have shined a light on the higher rates of substance and alcohol dependence in Native American culture.

As substance use is a very communal thing, the tribes of Native Americans in the United States have experienced decades of turmoil at the hands of alcohol and substance use following an already treacherous few centuries in history.

Both biological and environmental factors play into the role of alcohol and substance use in Native American populations. Studies show that tribes throughout the country and beyond lack genetic protective factors in the form of metabolizing enzymes on the biological level. In essence, it takes longer for a person of Native American descent to break down alcohol within their body.

Combining the biological factors of this with the environmental factors of trauma exposure, environmental hardship, and early age of use have led to the issues for Native American tribes.

These lethal combinations have led Alaska Natives and American Indians to have the highest rates of alcohol-related deaths in the country at 170 per 100,000 people.

Dr. Van Gundy’s research into rural communities and substance use has shown that use in Native American communities remains consistently high. In fact, her research showed that an astounding 1 in 5 Native American adults between the ages of 18 and 25 have an alcohol dependency.

These factors in Native American communities, compounded with the fact that New Mexico has the fourth highest total population of Native Americans in the United States, leads to a higher number of alcohol-related deaths in the state.

“It is clear through years of research that alcohol use and substance abuse are problems for native communities,” Van Gundy said. “There are many factors, including a long history of terrible things like genocide and the fact that many tribes are shuttered into small communities in remote areas. The factors completely line up to make it clear why alcohol and substance use are stronger in their communities.”

Alcohol Everywhere You Turn

Around every corner it seems like a flashing sign advertising a new beer shines with a sale. You cannot drive down any interstate without seeing at least a few billboards in bold letters saying “Our newest flavor is here!”

The state of New Mexico may also be reaching these higher numbers of alcohol-related deaths with the strong push of the alcohol sales in the state. Many researchers have studied and learned differing lessons about availability and its effect on use, but there is clear evidence that a higher density of alcohol outlets may play a role in increasing consumption. Many agree, however, that the magnitude is still not known about how much the role of density plays into addiction. More research is needed in the area.

Alcohol outlets include convenience stores, restaurants, and any other place you could possibly see alcohol served. In New Mexico, state law says there should be just one full retail liquor license per 2,000 citizens of the state. The New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Division controls liquor licensing in the state.

In cities such as Las Cruces, based on population, there should be 49 full retail liquor licenses. Instead, there are 84. 

There Is Hope in Treatment

Night after night the desire for change is there. You wake up in the morning with regret for the decisions you made the night before. You step by the overflowing container of beer cans in a slumber. The rough morning turns into a forgettable work day and becomes another night where you use alcohol to get back to relaxation and the ability to sleep.

As millions of others feel, beginning treatment is terrifying. It is common to hear that beginning treatment is half the battle in recovery. The feeling of regret from decisions in drinking are common, and making the commitment to change them is a courageous step.

As the factors above and more play a role in continuing the rise of alcohol-related deaths and alcohol-use disorder as a whole in New Mexico, it comes down to an individual and their loved ones to battle back in times of struggle. It is important to remember that while there is fear in the loss of life from alcohol, there are added issues that can arise from the use of alcohol over time and the use of alcohol in a binge setting.

There are many long-term health risks associated with alcohol misuse. That includes high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, many forms of cancer, liver disease, depression, dementia, infertility and pancreatitis. The short-term risks include legal troubles, financial troubles, and the same health risks as mentioned above.

Treatment for all individuals is a different journey, and recovery after treatment looks different as well. For some individuals, a full alcohol detox and recovery program can work for them, and for others, a 12-step program may be the answer they have been looking for.

Regardless of the steps taken, there is proof out there that recovery is possible for many. Research indicates that about one-third of those treated for alcohol use have no symptoms a year after treatment, and many others have substantially reduced alcohol intake.

The First Step at Shadow Mountain

Shadow Mountain Recovery has locations in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Taos New Mexico. Each location exists as a center for healing and building.

Because each individual requires a different path to treatment, Shadow Mountain has built programs around offering medically-supervised treatment by qualified professionals, personal and caring treatment, careful case management that eases transitioning from detox to treatment, and intense family focus with therapy.

Treatment is a journey and a challenge that cannot be viewed as a quick fix or vacation from reality. Regardless of the form of treatment, there must be difficult conversations and changes to build a foundation for long-term sobriety. You can find these things when you begin treatment with Shadow Mountain.

Shadow Mountain’s mission is to make quality treatment available to those who need it most. That’s why we do our best to work with insurance companies and keep our costs affordable. That being said, we never compromise quality of treatment, as seen by our accreditation by The Joint Commission.

Each Shadow Mountain location offers a unique opportunity to receive treatment. If you or a loved one are ready to take the first step to recover from alcohol use, call us today 855-700-1667.

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