People often think of the societal consequences that stem from abuse of drugs and alcohol but they might not think of the financial issues that are connected to drug abuse. Substance abuse leads to financial consequences on two levels, both personal and national. The costs come from a number of sources, including money spent to fight illegal drug sales and use, the cost of people missing work, and the cost of health care.
Drug and alcohol use has a great financial cost in the United States. Substance abuse, including the use of illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, costs the country more than $550 billion each year. As of 2008, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). $181 billion each is spent each year on illegal drug abuse while alcohol abuse costs the country $185 billion a year. The cost of illegal drug abuse to the nation is similar to the cost of fighting cancer or diabetes. Diabetes cost the country $131 billion in 2002 while cancer cost the country $171 billion in 2003.
The financial costs of drug and alcohol abuse aren’t felt by the user and his or her family alone. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, society and the government end up being responsible for about 60 percent of the financial costs associated with alcohol abuse. One of the major costs associated with alcohol abuse nationwide was the drop in productivity that occurs when a person drinks heavily or drinks often enough to impair performance at work.
Impact on Jobs
Drug and alcohol abuse directly impacts a person’s wallet and the bottom line of a company. On a personal level, using and abusing drugs or alcohol can impact a person’s job or work life in several ways. People who drink more than five drinks per day are likely to miss work, be less productive on the job, or experience an accident at the workplace. According to NIDA, just over 19 million Americans consume enough alcohol on a daily basis to impact their performance at work.
Along with poor workplace performance, drug abuse can make it difficult for a person to find work or to miss enough work that he or she ends up losing the job. Drug abuse can also play a role in the type of jobs of a person is eligible for. If a person has been using drugs from a young age, his or her education might not be at the same level as his or her peers, meaning the person can’t compete for the same jobs. A drug user might end up settling for a series of low paying jobs throughout his or her life, or until he or she enters recovery and begins to piece his or her life back together.
Higher Medical Costs
Drug abuse also often brings with it higher medical costs. A person with a history of drug abuse might have to pay higher medical insurance premiums, according to “Forbes” magazine. Illnesses and physical injuries associated with drug and alcohol abuse can also lead to higher medical costs for a drug user than for other people. Drug abuse can cause significant damage to internal organs such as the liver and kidneys or can put a person at an increased risk for certain types of cancer or other illnesses.
Drug abuse is also commonly associated with a higher risk for infections, which would bring with them higher medical costs. For example, people who inject drugs such as heroin are at high risk for infections including hepatitis B and HIV.
Higher medical costs aren’t felt by the person who abuses the drugs alone. The costs are often passed along to the government and society. Prescription drug abuse in particular has major financial consequences for society. Abuse of prescription drugs cost insurance companies more than $72 billion per year, according to CNN. The extra costs are then passed on to other people.
The cost of using drugs or alcohol can lead to mounting debt issues for users. Often, a person who abuses drugs will choose to use any money he or she has to purchase the drugs or alcohol, rather than using it to pay down debts such as mortgages, car loans or credit cards. The impact over time can be particularly harmful. When people aren’t able to pay their debts on time, interest builds and late fees accrue, making it more and more difficult for them to pay off their debt.
People who cannot pay their mortgage risk losing their home. Drug abuse is the number one cause of homelessness in cities around the country. It’s not just the drug users who are impacted. People who abuse drugs and lose their homes also end up losing the home their spouse and children are living in.
The legal consequences of drug and alcohol abuse are also tied to financial consequences. For example, if a person is pulled over and found to be driving under the influence, he or she will need to find a lawyer to represent them in court. He or she will likely have to pay a fine for the first offense.
If the person is caught again, the financial consequences become more dire. The fine might be higher than the first one or a person might need to spend a few days in prison. Usually, the person loses his or her license after the second or third attempt or has his or her license suspended.
There are also financial costs to society when a person is arrested for drug use or found guilty of driving under the influence. Court time, police effort and prison space need to be devoted to drug use and to catching people who sell or use drugs. These costs are usually paid for by the tax payer, often at the expense of other programs, such as education or cultural programs.
The Way Out is Treatment
While the costs of drug and alcohol abuse are high for individuals and society, there is a way out. Many people can get their lives back on track by seeking out addiction help and recovery programs.