The Cost of Addiction—A Whopping $600 Billion Dollars a Year
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The Cost of Addiction—A Whopping $600 Billion Dollars a Year


Best Masters Programs In Drug Counseling has put together an infographic charting something most of us already know: drugs are hella expensive. But the cost of a habit isn’t just a problem for the addicts themselves. Substance abuse and addiction cost the country $600 billion dollars each year. How do they figure? The economic losses include lost productivity of workers, healthcare, and crime-related costs. That adds up to $1,800 for every man, woman, and child in the country. Sorry, nation. I guess we’ll have to write the American taxpayer into our Eighth Step lists from now on.

The Cost of Numbing

But the breakdown is a little surprising. For one, these figures include tobacco—which starts to make sense considering it costs us just as much as illegal drugs ($193 million apiece). Do cigarette breaks count as “lost productivity?” Alcohol rings up an even bigger total, a whopping $235 billion. But where do prescription meds fall on this chart? Are they subsumed under illegal drugs when used without a prescription? It’s not clear, but since the graphic later depicts Oxycontin as the most expensive addiction of all, it seems like a pertinent question.

While not exactly stigma-shattering, the fact that two in three drug users are employed may surprise some people who think addiction is limited to Skid Row. But again, if “drug users” includes alcohol and tobacco, then the numbers aren’t that helpful. That one in 12 full-time workers uses illegal drugs on a regular basis is a much more concrete (though unsurprising) statistic.

Calculating a Drug Budget

The infographic then goes on to break down addiction costs by substance. Once again, some of the numbers seem a little dodgy. Though I’m only half an expert, I always thought heroin was cheaper than coke. Maybe they’re averaging in crack use (which does account for the majority of people seeking cocaine treatment). I also think they lowballed the alcohol numbers a bit, as $9 per day on booze is really bottom-shelfing it. But ultimately, the costs to the addict are the least interesting figures. It’s not exactly news that addiction is a wallet-killer. It’s the costs to everyone else that go unnoticed.

Per addict, a month of treatment costs almost ten times a month of what either addiction or incarceration costs—and as we know, the typical 30-day stint in rehab is often not enough. Then again, when you consider the fact that addicts use for years, treatment starts to look like a better deal—provided that it works. Here’s what would be amazing: if there were a $20,000 rehab that was so effective that addicts never had to go back or use again, and the government funded it full stop. Sounds crazy, but if such a miracle treatment were possible, it would actually save the country a lot of money to foot the bill, and all addicts would have access to the care they need. Even with our current (far less idealized) system, the chart claims that every dollar invested in treatment saves taxpayers seven dollars in criminal justice and healthcare costs. The bottom line is that by helping addicts recover, we can help our economy recover, too.

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About Author

Erica Larsen AKA Eren Harris blogs at Whitney Calls and Clean Bright Day. Their writing has also been published on Salon, Selfish, Violet Rising and YourTango. They live in Los Angeles with their husband and their enormous cat.