is funny and charming. He's the kind of guy you'd want to hang out with at a party, and, wouldn't you know it, he's always ready for a party.

David went to get another pack of cigs from a store downtown and then settled in again with the bottle. He lay down in the grass. But then his mind began to swim.

The Christmas stocking, weather-worn and soaking wet, was still tied to a branch weeks after the holiday passed. The branch hung over a narrow gully that concealed a homeless hideout.

Taped-together tents were filled with blankets, clothes and food collected from shelters. Empty 40-ounce bottles of beer were piled on the ground. A latrine sprouting toilet paper sat a few feet from the tents.

Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful and the Colorado Springs Police Department team for monthly transient sweeps in the city. Their experience tells them homelessness and alcoholism are inextricably linked.

A troop of teenage volunteers helping with the downtown cleanup filled bags and bags with trash, enough to fill eight pickup truck beds before the day was done. They sidestepped urine and feces and rotting food, gagging from the smells. They picked up sleeping bags and dirty blankets, toothpaste and deodorant, a Robert Ludlum book, a porn magazine, English Leather cologne, clothes, a calculator, vodka bottles and dozens and dozens of 40s.

Evil Eye, Steel Reserve, Side Pocket these are the cheap, high-proof beers of choice among the homeless. Alcohol is so prevalent because it's cheap and available. Whether it's used in lieu of a favored drug, or to mask mental health issues, or to keep warm, alcohol is the default drug.

Alcohol is probably the worst because it's OK. It's a social drug, Thomson said. It's extremely cheap. They can walk into any liquor store for five bucks and get two bottles of Steel Reserve or Colt .45 and get their fix for a day, until they scrounge up enough money for the next fix.

The skid row drunk, curling up in doorways and swilling Colt .45, is the classic stereotype of an alcoholic. Skid row drunks cost the community a bundle. They are policed, jailed, tried, detoxed, given medical treatment, buried, given food and supplies by charities. They don't hold down jobs long enough to pour taxes back into the system.

Thomson and partner Brett Iverson specialize in community policing in the Gold Hill Division, and they estimate 75 percent of their calls are alcoholrelated: fights, personal robbery, disorderly conduct. They arrest drunken high school kids, clubgoers on Tejon Street and skid row alcoholics. When guys like David get too drunk to stand up, they scrape them off the ground and haul them in.

In their three-plus years of transient sweeps, Thomson and Iverson have come across 10 bodies, most of them people who passed out from alcohol and froze to death. Some died inside holes they dug in the ground. One guy was frozen solid in the middle of a creek.

The Christmas stocking was a telling artifact, an attempt to salvage meaning in a life ravaged by addiction. Guys like Cowboy and David cost society a lot, but alcohol has cost them everything.

David's blood-alcohol level was as high as those puffy clouds he was watching when he passed out above .40, more than enough to kill a college kid on a bender.

David has spent years spinning through the revolving door of the system. He got out of a rehab center in Pueblo a few months ago, and stayed dry for about 45 days.

Everything he owned was stuffed into that dingy motel room on South Nevada. But he couldn't remember the name of the place or the name of the woman. She was probably long gone with his stuff, anyway.

Gifford said hall beds and long waits are direct consequences of alcohol abuse so many drunken people are dumped on the emergency room that every aspect of care suffers.

Medical bills aren't the only cost. Wait times are longer for other patients. Patients are intimidated by some surly characters who don't want to be there, she said, and nurses are often verbally abused.

The problem got so bad that community leaders were forced to do something. Not only was the ER clogged, but downtown streets were clogged with aggressive panhandlers. In 2002, a coalition was formed to study the problem, and it identified a lack of services for low-income substance abusers.

These individuals were caught in a revolving door between detox, the emergency departments, shelters and back again, racking up astronomical costs to the community, not to mention the loss of life and dignity, wrote former Memorial Hospital chief operating officer Cherie Gorby in a January memo to the City Council.

The collaboration decided to pay for a 22-week program for individuals without resources. The patients go through detox services, a six-week intensive outpatient program, 12 weeks of after-care and a longterm housing initiative called Harbor House.

In 2005, five partners the state of Colorado, El Paso County, Memorial Hospital, Penrose Hospital and Pikes Peak Mental Health funded this program to the tune of about $1.59 million. Early results from Harbor House indicate it's paying for itself by decreasing ER and detox visits of its hardcore, recidivist, homeless clientele by nearly 50 percent.

Gifford can see the difference. It's better than it was, she said. The average time to a bed has dropped from 62 minutes to 33 minutes. And 12 percent staff turnover in 2002 dropped to 7 percent.

Gifford was especially excited when two brothers who used to frequent the ER came by to say hello. They graduated from Harbor House, got jobs and wanted to thank nurses and doctors who used to tend them nearly every night.

So much for David's plan to get out of the hospital and hit the liquor store. Instead of dumping him on the street as he wanted, the ER docs sent him to the city's only emergency detox center, the Lighthouse.

A middle-age guy talked about how he sold his original Star Trek VHS collection for $80. That's a week's worth of vodka, he said. Today, he'd rather have the tapes.

Teri Lawrence has heard David's stories before, and thousands of stories like them. The counselor knows a lot of the guys who come to the 30-bed Lighthouse.

The clients are mostly men, mostly white, but they're of all ages and socioeconomic categories. People come to Lawrence at their worst some are so far gone, they've lost bladder control and are unable to get a spoon to their mouths.

She is part of a growing army of workers paid to help others overcome or cope with addiction. Sometimes Lawrence persuades alcoholics to pursue intensive treatment, and sometimes there is room for them in those programs, but usually they dry out for a few hours or days and head back to the bottle.

Research indicates that unless treatment is part of at least a 90-day continuum of care, it is little more than babysitting until the next drunk. But places like the Lighthouse are necessary for public safety, to get people off the streets, to get drunks out of the ER, and to give them a shot at real treatment.

Substance abuse experts and economists know it's wiser to spend money on prevention and education the money goes further and lowers the cost to society in the long run. Yet, the reality is we wait until the crisis and then respond.

For every $100 spent on substance abuse, Colorado spends a paltry 6 cents on prevention, treatment and research. The other $99.94 goes to mopping up the messes left behind by substance abuse.

He grew up in Denver, where his father was a school principal and he was one of nine kids in his Irish Catholic family. A kid gave him a hit of LSD in the eighth grade, his first taste of an altered state.

David recalls painting his room when he got home and seeing his peas jump around on his dinner plate. He loved it. After that, he tried every drug and drink he could get his hands on.

David got married and had two daughters. He cooked for celebrities and athletes at a tennis club in Miami. He ran a bed and breakfast on Schroon Lake in upstate New York.

The aspect of alcohol abuse that costs Americans the most is also the least sexy: lost productivity because of everything from hangovers to fatal accidents.

Certainly, it cost plenty for David to cycle through the system of emergency responders, medical workers and detox, but, over time, the cost of him not showing up to work, flipping jobs and blunting his skills as a chef would prove more expensive.

Shannon McGarraugh directs Drug Free Workplace for the Profile Employee Assistance Program in Colorado Springs, and she sees the cost of alcohol to employers every day.

McGarraugh cites studies showing that, compared with nonabusers, substance abusers' medical costs are three times higher, they take three times as much sick leave and are absent six times as often. They also file five times as many workers' comp claims, have four times more accidents and make twice as many mistakes.

It's very common that five or six people will be removed at one time, and that causes a real problem, McGarraugh said. Small businesses actually do get shut down because they can't function. It can be financially devastating.

Everybody has a stereotype of what an alcoholic looks like it's always that skid row bum, McGarraugh said. Only a narrow slice of alcoholics fits that description, but the stereotype causes shame for professionals who struggle with addiction.

In the end, it's impossible to figure all the costs of alcohol in the workplace. Hidden losses such as diverted managerial time, excessive turnover and damaged equipment add up. Nearly 40 percent of industrial deaths can be linked to alcohol consumption or alcoholism, Mc-Garraugh said.

David and his former wife both drank. He started a homebased catering business so he could spend more time with his two girls, and as he took over the housework, he began to find his wife's bottles hidden around the house.

But she did what he couldn't she got drunk at night and hauled herself to work the next morning. Even when he'd try to stop drinking, his wife kept alcohol around and insisted it was OK because she wasn't the one with the problem.

After his family left him eight years ago, David crawled deeper into the bottle. He couldn't hold down a job for any length of time before he'd go on another bender and stop showing up for work. Once he gets rolling, it takes a pint of vodka to get out of bed in the morning for a trip to the liquor store.

As David tells the story of his life, it spills out in dribs and drabs. A rehab stint here, a regret there. Each tale revolves around being drunk or high. And his storytelling hovers in an uncomfortable space between bragging and self-loathing.

He remembers rehabs in Olathe, Las Animas, Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Denver. He remembers getting kicked off a bus in the middle of nowhere for chugging in the back seat (you can't ride that long without a drink).

One recent seizure sent him into a coma for 13 days. He used to hike the Incline above Manitou Springs, but now he struggles to climb a flight of stairs. David knows this can't go on forever, but he can't decide between sobriety and death.

David said his older daughter is starting to head down the wrong road, starting to experiment. He said his greatest fear is not his own coffin, but that his daughter will follow in his footsteps.

David's fear is justified. Children of alcoholics an estimated 27 million people in the United States are about three times as likely to become alcoholics than other children.

They exhibit depression and anxiety, from the early symptoms of bed wetting, not having friends, being afraid to go to school, or having nightmares, to the teenage symptoms of isolation and phobias.

Marriages suffer. Separated and divorced men and women are three times as likely as married men and women to say they had been married to an alcoholic or problem drinker.

Violence in the family often goes hand in hand with alcohol abuse. Alcohol is a factor in nearly half of domestic violence cases not only does it fuel batterers, but makes drunken victims more vulnerable.

More than half of defendants accused of killing their spouses as well as almost half the victims had been drinking alcohol at the time, the Department of Justice said.

The smell of alcohol was sweating out of his pores. Then he got the shakes. At 2:30 a.m. at the Lighthouse, the only sound was the ring on his finger rattling against a table.

David spent two nights at the Lighthouse, and he walked out sober. Detox and law enforcement personnel in Colorado Springs haven't seen him for several months. His whereabouts are unknown.

Amount spent annually by the Colorado Springs police and fire departments on response costs and transports for alcohol and drug-related problems.

Alcohol-related transports that American Medical Response could clearly identify in 2005. AMR said that number, and a total cost of $200,000, is very conservative.

Percentage of adolescents age 12-17 who drink (2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health). The good news: Most studies concur that underage drinking has gone down during the past 25 years.

Liquor licenses in Colorado Springs, mostly for hotel and restaurant (343), off-premises 3.2% beer licenses (134), liquor stores (118) and taverns (98). The licenses generated $254,000 in income in 2005.

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