Substance abuse is rampant in the United States, producing an economic burden that overshadows any other neurological disorder. Recent statistics implicate substance abuse in a total cost of $820 billion annually. Although the financial ramifications alone are staggering, the emotional, physical, and psychological toll that addiction takes on its victims, and on society at large, is equally if not more disturbing. The following categories illustrate the cost of addiction in both human and economic terms:
- Loss of productivity – One of the hallmarks of drug abuse is reduced productivity in the workplace. Once someone becomes substance-dependent, they may find themselves unintentionally missing work, calling in sick, or producing mediocre, sub-standard work while on the job. Even high-functioning alcoholics commonly find the quality and quantity of their work suffering as a result of their addiction. Many addicted individuals are fired, placed on probation, or miss promotional or advancement opportunities. Others find themselves incarcerated or hit with heavy financial or legal penalties related to their substance abuse— all of which can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime, possibly millions in extreme cases.
- Addiction and poverty – Addiction is particularly costly to the economically disadvantaged. Such individuals are not protected by the luxury of an affluent lifestyle, and a simple habit like smoking cigarettes can cost hundreds of dollars monthly. In many cases, smoking consumes up to 10 percent of a family’s income. In other cases, where the addiction to cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs is more severe, people spend approximately half (or more) of their income in order to sustain their habit. This frequently leads to bankruptcy, being perpetually broke, living paycheck to paycheck, or consistently having to borrow money in order to survive.
- Health care, insurance, and criminal justice system costs – Obviously, addiction causes physical and psychological deterioration. This inevitably leads to health problems and mental instability. Americans, in particular, pay high premiums for insurance based upon the major impact of substance abuse on our society. This includes car insurance, health insurance, and penalty-based legal fees associated with driving-under-the-influence charges (DUIs) and other criminal offenses. In some states, a DUI can cost upward of 20,000 or more once lost wages, diminished productivity, and legal fees are factored in. A DUI arrest could also lead to a 300 percent increase in your monthly car insurance premium— a financial burden very few can afford
- Additional societal costs – Although many people are unaware of the fact, addiction affects every aspect of our society’s economic vitality. Property foreclosures, missed student loan payments, unpaid debts, and anticipated health care trends and insurance projections all factor into the equation. In other words, even non-addicted individuals are being penalized for a societal epidemic that appears to worsen every year. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), excessive alcohol consumption costs society approximately $250 billion annually, while illicit drug use costs approximately $200 billion. Many experts believe these already alarming numbers to be higher, however, they are difficult to quantify based on the enormity and complexity of factors involved.
Fortunately, there is a light at the end of this seemingly dark and endless tunnel. Research proves that for every dollar spent on substance abuse treatment, there is a significant reduction in health care and criminal justice costs. Although the optimal solution is always abstinence, substance abuse treatment is the next best thing—not only for the individual battling a chronic, relapsing disease—but for our socially and economically fragile society as a whole.
What, in your view, is the biggest cost of addiction? Share your views with the rest of us!