The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) indicated that there were approximately 21.5 million people aged 12 or older with a substance use disorder (SUD) in 2014, including 17 million people with an alcohol use disorder and 7.1 million people with an illicit drug use disorder. Addictions result in problems for individuals, their families and their communities, and are a major public health concern. Problems associated with addiction and the related consequences cost millions of dollars each year. Not only are addictions costly for society, but they also impact the individual’s financial resources as well.
The financial costs associated with addiction are extensive. More than $700 billion per year is spent on health care, lost productivity and crime due to the use of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs. Overall, health care costs in the U.S. are $166 billion annually. In addition, nearly one-third of all hospital expenses are linked to hospitalizations, emergency room visits for trauma, and overdoses, accidents and other chronic medical conditions (e.g., cancer, heart disease, liver failure, etc.) due to alcohol or drug use.
Nonmedical use and misuse of prescription medications, including opioids, stimulants and central nervous system (CNS) depressants, further contribute to the economic burden of addiction on society. For example, the abuse of opioid prescription medications costs an additional $72.5 billion per year in medical expenses alone. Indirectly, addiction-related problems burden many other areas of federal and state spending for welfare, unemployment, child abuse, mental health and disability services, housing assistance, and food and nutrition assistance.
The economic impact on employers and businesses is also substantial. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University reported that substance abuse compromises workforce productivity and increases business and health insurance costs. In the workforce, employees with substance use problems are more likely to be injured and have poorer job performance. Many people who abuse drugs or alcohol may also have difficulty finding or maintaining full-time employment.
Appropriate treatments provided to patients with addiction help to reduce the impact of addiction on society as a whole. The economic benefits of treating substance use disorders include reductions in incarceration, health care and social costs. The NIDA reported that every dollar invested in addiction treatment programs saves $4 to $7 due to reduced drug-related crime, health care costs, law enforcement and other criminal justice costs.
Maintaining an addiction is expensive. The cost of purchasing drugs, alcohol and cigarettes add up and, over time, can become unmanageable. In addition to the cost of sustaining an addiction itself, the behavioral, physical, legal and social consequences can be costly for the individual as well. Substance dependence is associated with increased intentional (e.g., domestic violence, sexual assault) and unintentional (e.g., car accidents, falls, burns, drowning) injuries, which can contribute to financial problems due to high medical expenses.
Loss of work productivity, absenteeism and poor work performance associated with the person’s alcohol or drug use can contribute to unemployment and other financial problems. In addition, the legal consequences associated with addiction, including arrests and incarceration for driving while intoxicated or under the influence, can increase insurance rates and result in hefty legal fines.
Addicted people have a high risk of morbidity and mortality. In fact, addictions can cost these individuals their lives. Alcohol misuse is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., and drug-related deaths have also doubled in the last 40 years. Furthermore, the prolonged use of alcohol and drugs contributes to serious and chronic health problems such as organ damage, certain cancers and diseases, and increased risk for infections such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis C. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), alcohol-related cancer, liver cirrhosis and injury are responsible for 1.5 million deaths worldwide and 51.9 million potential years of life lost. The cost of hospital visits and medical treatments can further contribute to an addicted person’s economic instability.
The Sovereign Health Group provides evidence-based treatments for mental health disorders, substance abuse and addiction, and co-occurring conditions. For more information about substance dependence or about treatment programs at Sovereign Health, please contact our 24/7 helpline.
Written by Amanda Habermann, M.S., Sovereign Health Group writer