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The Cost of Addiction

A drug addiction impacts everything about a life. It affects relationships, health, finances, behavior, and everyday activities.

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While each person is different, and their experience with a substance use disorder is different, there are some general consequences that have a high likelihood of occurring. These consequences could take the form of economic damage, legal issues, damaged relationships, and loss of property and living arrangements.

Getting help is always possible, no matter how bad things may be.

How Much Does a Drug Habit Cost?

Drugs cost money, and the market and industry around them can pull people into a deepening spiral of use, psychological dependence, and crime. Many people turn to petty theft or sex work to maintain their access to drugs, often at the cost of their relationships, their prospects, and their health.

In 2017, the CEO of an outpatient substance abuse treatment facility told Psychology Today that “the real cost of America’s drug epidemic exceeds $1 trillion,” based on how much money is spent on health care, law enforcement, criminal justice, lost wages, treatment, and drug-related crimes. That figure is expected to rise in the face of regressive drug policies and a de-emphasis on evidence-based treatment methods.

In 2011, the Department of Justice’s National Drug Intelligence Center calculated that drug addiction in America cost the country $193 billion in 2007, a total that was updated to $445 billion in 2015. The amount covered not only illegal drug use, but also the abuse of prescription medication, ranging from opioids to benzodiazepines. It is likely that even in 2015, the actual financial cost was well over $1 trillion.

$1,000 a Day

Vice magazine profiled a number of people on the cost of being a victim of substance abuse. One of them was a young woman who started using cocaine in her early 20s, paying $60 per gram of cocaine. At the peak of her problem, she spent upward of $3,700 a week on her drug habit, which averaged between $450 and $1,200 a day. As her addiction got worse, she turned to prostitution to maintain her drug supply, and most of the money she made from that line of sex work went into buying more cocaine.

Another person interviewed by Vice magazine said that the total of $200,000 he spent on prescription opioids (in particular, hydromorphone) was only a “conservative estimate” because it does not count the LSD, cocaine, and alcohol he was also taking at the time. The man spent around $75 a day, paying $3 for a 4 mg hydromorphone pill.

As the opioid epidemic continues to plague communities and families around the country, victims of opioid trafficking are paying almost $375 on a daily basis, sometimes spending $225 on a single gram. A patient told Vice that many who are psychologically dependent on heroin commit armed robberies to fund their need. While this man didn’t do that, he claims he spent “$10,000 in four months,” losing his family, career, and retirement savings.

Everyone Pays the Cost of Addiction

For other people, however, breaking the law is part of the equation. Another man confessed that during his teenage years, he would spend $60 for a gram of crack cocaine (spending roughly $225 a day), stealing everything from electronics and jewelry to keep the drugs coming. Before he was able to get treatment for his habit, he spent around $150,000.

The Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University explains that “everyone” pays for the cost of addiction. Employers and employees pay more for their health insurance premiums, consumers pay for higher priced goods and services, and taxpayers are charged with paying for public health, health care, law enforcement, criminal justice, incarceration, prevention, and treatment. Foster care and homeless shelters, facing a mountainous backlog of cases of patients who desperately need help, rely on public funds and donations.

Economically speaking, substance abuse stunts financial growth and drains future investments of necessary resources. Ultimately, says the Health Policy Institute, “substance abuse is big business,” and everybody has to pay for it.

The Cost of Crime

Drug use and crime are very closely related. A 2004 survey from the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 18 percent of federal prisoners (and 17 percent of state prisoners) committed the crimes for which they were incarcerated at the time, in order to obtain money to facilitate their drug habits.

Individuals who turn to crime to get money for their drugs tend to stay away from violent crimes (although there are exceptions). Mostly, they tend to commit property crimes (like porch theft) and drug trafficking.

Women are particularly at risk because they are often exploited by sex traffickers to trade sexual favors for drugs. In places like West Virginia, a state that was completely unprepared for the flood of prescription opioids, women (and some men) who became addicted to oxycodone and hydrocodone turned to the streets. An agent from the Department of Homeland Security, assigned to the area to combat sex trafficking, told NBC News that “there just aren’t many other ways to make enough money to support a [drug] habit.”

A number of women are forced into prostitution by pimps who promise drugs in return for their services. That is behind much of the demand and supply of prescription drugs (and other similar contraband), according to an assistant U.S. attorney. Sex trafficking is a crime of opportunity, and much of that opportunity hinges on the desperate need for opioids that many of these women have.

Driving Under the Influence

The costs and punishment for driving under the influence are very high, the result of law enforcement and the criminal justice system doing everything it can to send a message to people who might think that drunk driving is not a serious problem.

Each state has its own penalties and fines for DUIs, but Esurance Insurance Services profiled the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs as an example of a “modest estimate” of the ramifications of driving under the influence. A first-time DUI conviction could cost a driver anywhere from $390 to $1,000, but it won’t stop there. If a person is arrested for drunk driving, the police have the car impounded, and the driver is stuck with the bill. In California, this is usually $200.

California is one of many states that require first-time DUI offenders to complete a court-ordered drug treatment program. The length of the program depends on the blood alcohol concentration at the time of the arrest. Typically speaking, the drunker the driver was, the longer the course. On average, such a treatment program will cost $600.

Convicted DUI offenders are also on the hook for the costs associated with court paperwork and court appearances. The length of the case and the severity of the DUI charge determine the amount of the court costs; Esurance estimates that an individual would have to pay $800.

The services of a DUI lawyer can reduce or even remove the worst of the legal ramifications of driving under the influence, but those services won’t be cheap. A good lawyer could cost as much as $2,500, all told, and this figure might increase if there are other charges on top of the DUI, such as property damages.

In the event that another person was injured or killed as the result of the drunk driving incident, state funds pay restitution to the victim and/or their families. The individual responsible would be charged for the restitution fund. In California’s case, the California Victim Compensation Program usually costs $500, but this would increase based on the severity of the injury.

Other fees include a $125 DMV reissue fee (to get the driver’s license back after the mandatory four-month suspension) and a $2,700 insurance premium increase.

In total, the cost of a single DUI conviction in a place like California could cost a person almost $9,000 and almost certainly more if there was damage to persons and/or property as a result of the impaired driving. Repeat offenses or DUIs with high levels of blood alcohol concentration would almost certainly raise that dollar amount.

Addiction & Divorce

A substance abuse problem affects everyone in the person’s life, and it causes special damage to their close relationships with friends and family members. In 2014, the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, for example, discovered that 48 percent of people who struggled with alcohol abuse either at the time of the study, or at any time before, went through a divorce at some point in their lives. Additionally, couples where at least one partner suffered from a substance use disorder were four times more likely to separate than couples where there was no concern of addiction.

And divorce is not cheap, either economically or otherwise. As The Huffington Post explains, divorce can often bankrupt one partner and cause significant emotional damage to children. Couples who choose to divorce without the help of a lawyer can spend up to $1,500 in court fees. Retaining the services of a mediator to arbitrate an equitable separation of assets can run close to $7,000.

If litigation is involved, most lawyers have a retainer of $10,000, depending on the complexity of the case. If the divorce case has to go to trial, the fees can easily skyrocket past $50,000.

Problems on the Job

It is not uncommon for people struggling with a substance use disorder to suffer in the workplace. After all, the many effects of drug addiction — everything from hallucinations and erratic behavior to mania and fatigue — can negatively impact work performance and team cohesion, resulting in lost wages, suspensions, lost promotions, and ultimately termination.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine calculated that “the estimated economic cost of excessive drinking was $223.5 billion in 2006.” Of that, as much as 72.2 percent was the result of lost productivity in the office.

The National Safety Council writes that while missed work accounts for two weeks due to illness, travel, vacation, or other reasons, workers with substance use disorders “miss nearly 50 percent more days than their peers.” On average, employees who are struggling with addiction miss almost three weeks of work every year. Those with a psychological dependence on pain medication miss almost 30 full days a year.

Encouragingly, employees in recovery who received treatment in the past, and who have not had a relapse within 12 months, miss the fewest number of days at the office, even among the general workforce.

What does this mean for employers? The average cost to management to recruit and train replacement workers (for employees who are incapacitated due to substance use disorders) is 21 percent of a worker’s annual salary. The higher the education and training of the replaced worker, the greater the cost.

Turnover is also high. A quarter of the workers in the general population report having had more than one employer in the previous year. But 36 percent of workers with an addiction problem, and 42 percent of workers with a prescription painkiller abuse issue, report having more than one employer in the previous year.

Evictions, Foreclosure & Debt

Addiction has many other legal ramifications, including loss of property and living space. Landlords have legal grounds to evict tenants if they believe that tenants are engaging in dangerous or unsafe health violations, which would obviously cover drug use.

Many people lose their homes as the result of their addiction, or they are forced to sell their houses to cover treatment costs. Vox tells the story of a family that drained their savings and retirement funds to help one of their children through rehab, spending well over $100,000. Tragically, their son died of a fentanyl and alcohol overdose at age 27.

Where to Start When You Feel Overwhelmed

A drug addiction can feel overwhelming. A lot of things are going wrong at the same time, and you may have a genuine fear for your well-being or the well-being of someone close to you. The process of getting help can simply start by talking to a trusted friend or family member, or going to a doctor, spiritual advisor, or counselor. Telling someone reliable about the problem will ensure that you are not alone as you figure out what to do next.

Making contact with a hospital or a treatment clinic to help you out of the pattern of addiction will give you options on how to proceed, taking into account your financial and family situation. There are always payment options, daycare options, social services, and other resources that will make sure the people who are important to you will be looked after while you put your life back together.

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