The True Economic Costs of Addiction
Addiction brings with it a personal toll, and the costs can include relationships and careers in addition to finances. The scope of addiction, however, expands well beyond the individual. It is important to understand the true economic costs of addiction when it comes to the legal and judicial systems, businesses, the medical industry and personal recovery.
Costs of Addiction in the Medical Industry
The health insurance industry is responsible for shouldering a large portion of the costs related to addiction. Millions of men and women in the United States struggle with addiction to drugs and alcohol and many of those individuals rely on health insurance to pay for their treatment. In addition, addicts may deal with a greater number of health problems as well as emergency room visits.
By some estimates, there are over 47,000 fatal drug overdoses every year in the United States. There are also many, many more individuals who overdose but are able to recover thanks to emergency medical treatment. While saving lives is undoubtedly a good thing, it does come with a cost. It is often insurance companies or hospitals that end up footing the bill for the expensive emergency care needed to save the lives of those who overdose.
Addiction can cause a number of side effects that impact the health of addicts. To treat these side effects, medical attention is required. Government programs, individuals, health insurance providers and hospitals may all play a role in financing the medical care required because of addiction. In addition to the physical damage that addiction can bring, mental health problems are also common, and these issues can become lifelong concerns in need of ongoing treatment.
Stepping back and appreciating the scale of hospital treatment for addiction can reveal just how expensive it can all be. In some years, there are over 700,000 emergency room visits for opioid addiction alone. When you factor in emergency caseload, long-term treatment and government-run programs for drug and alcohol addiction, financial costs in the billions of dollars are probable.
Costs of Addiction in Legal and Criminal Matters
In the United States, a significant percentage of those who are incarcerated are put in jail for drug-related charges. In addition to the costs of housing those who are in jail as a result of their addiction, the government pays for things like court appointed lawyers, legal fees and transportation in the pursuit of justice.
Think, for a minute, about a person who is addicted to heroin. In order to finance their illness, they might sell small amounts of the drug themselves. If caught and arrested, they might be held, taken to court and then put in jail. All of these steps cost the taxpayers and the government money.
There are also costs involved with finding and arresting drug users, those who sell drugs and drug addicts. In cities and towns, this might be the salaries of police officers. On a larger scale, there are agencies like the Drug Enforcement Agency, whose sole focus is on illegal substances, many of which are highly addictive.
With growing prison populations, much of which is directly related to non-violent drug crime, there is a call to reduce the costs of incarcerating those who struggle with addiction. In many cases, the costs of treatment rather than punishment could yield better results for addicts and lower expenses for government.
Costs of Addiction for Businesses
Businesses of all sizes can also directly bear the cost of addiction. Individuals who struggle with addiction may have reduced performance, can drive up health insurance costs for employers, can make costly mistakes and are more likely to be absent or late to work.
The first thing to consider is that a person addicted to drugs or alcohol won’t be performing at their highest level. When someone arrives to work extremely hungover or under the influence of a drug, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to put in 100 percent effort. This is an often ignored cost of addiction that businesses have to bear.
Those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol are also far more likely to be absent from work, show up late or call in sick. In salaried positions, this amounts to less work for the same amount of money, costing companies cash. In unsalaried positions, it might mean having to call in replacements at higher wages or pay overtime to have other employees cover missed shifts.
When employees struggle with addiction, they are more prone to error while at work. In fact, those under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or those performing poorly because of withdrawal, are more likely to make production mistakes, miss deadlines or break equipment. Many expensive accidents are caused by employees who struggle with addiction, and this is an issue that impacts all industries across the board.
Costs of Addiction Recovery for Individuals
There are also serious economic costs of addiction on a personal level. Addictive substances can be expensive, as can treatment. For those with and without a financial safety net, addiction can be the most expensive thing in their lives.
The first cost encountered by addicts is simply the expense of procuring addictive substances. Not only are most illegal or illicit substances incredibly costly, but addicts may face an ever-growing tolerance. This means that those struggling with addiction need to find and pay for larger amounts of their preferred addictive substance. Affording drugs and alcohol might take precedence over paying bills, mortgages or rent.
While in the throes of addiction, there may be other costs to handle as well. Things like legal fees or health care might be paid directly by the addict.
Recovery, too, can be an expensive prospect for individuals. If economic hardship is a factor, then some individuals won’t want to seek professional treatment or rehab. Families and loved ones might ultimately be responsible for the costs of addiction treatment and recovery.
Clearly, addiction is an expensive epidemic. From the legal system to the medical industry, there are significant economic costs to addiction.