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The Cost of Addiction

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Addiction is expensive: it costs money, time and happiness. But how do drugs and alcohol take so much from someone with an addiction?

Drugs and Money

When it comes to the literal cost of addiction, it’s important to consider the drug and its availability. Some drugs are harder to get, making them more expensive. As drug trends change or law enforcement attacks a supply chain, prices fluctuate. The recent prescription painkiller epidemic encouraged the federal government and states to make pills harder to sell and harder to crush to get high. Unfortunately as pain pills on the black market rose in price, heroin became a more attractive choice due to its cheaper cost.

The following are various prices for drugs sold on the street in recent years:

  • Cocaine: $129 per gram[1]
  • Marijuana: $17.03 per gram
  • Heroin: a dose is around $10 – $25, someone with a serious habit spends around $150 – $200 per day; generally, heroin is considered inexpensive on the street, costs vary depending on purity and availability[2]
  • OxyContin (opioid prescription painkiller): around $5, $10 and up for a 10mg tablet and $65 to $80and up for an 80mg tablet, when purchased on the street[3]
  • Meth: $25-$80 for a quarter of a gram, approximately one dose; price varies depending on purity and geography; for example, in 2002, a gram of pure meth sold for $60 in Seattle and $330 in Chicago[4]

Cigarette buttLegal drugs may cost more or less than illicit substances. A report on cigarettes, for example, shows heroin is a cheaper option in some places. A pack of cigarettes sells from around $5 to $10, depending on the state and local taxes, while a bag of heroin goes for an average $8 for a single dose. It’s hard to compare a pack of cigarettes to a dose of heroin, but the price comparison is still similar.[5]

Alcohol is more expensive than most beverages, although happy hour specials can make the price of a beer the same as the price of a cola. From the top shelf to the well, the cost of alcohol varies widely, although wine and liquor can go for hundreds to even thousands a bottle. Most Americans who drink, consume beer most often, 39 percent, while 35 percent drink wine and 22 percent drink hard liquor.[6]

Of course, the monetary cost of drugs and alcohol only accounts for part of the total cost. Addictive substances exact a heavy toll on users, their families and loved ones, and the public who funds drug enforcement and treatment efforts. Unseen costs associated with addiction, such as diminished productivity in the workforce, also add to the overall expense.

Personal Cost of Addiction

Substance use disproportionally affects people living with low incomes. People who live at the poverty level spend half or more of their income on drugs.[7] Plus, the cost of drugs has personal and global effects, including the following:

  • Diminished earnings due to work missed
  • Increase in premiums for health care, car insurance and life insurance
  • Loss of potential income due to a failure to complete a college degree or other educational training program that would have increased earnings prospects
  • Paying for medical costs for illnesses and ailments that result from drug abuse or addiction
  • Opportunity costs such as not working on oneself in a way productive of income and future prospects because of a preoccupation with sourcing drugs and funding their short-term use
  • Legal fees for lawyers, fines and additional costs related to DUI and/or other arrests[7]

At the beginning, substance use gives someone a momentary escape from himself, from obligations, and from society. Once addiction sets in, however, the need to find and take drugs makes substance use an obsession. It overwhelms a person’s entire life. Since addicts usually lose the ability to meet social expectations and follow the law, they encounter law enforcement, public disapproval, and relationship problems. While substance use initially is a choice, once dependency forms, addiction is involuntary. Substance users lose far more than they intend.[8]

The Cost to Families

One of the most tragic aspects of addiction is the impact an addict’s behavior has on his family. As recovered addict and addiction writer Melody Beattie points out in her best-selling book, Co-Dependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself, an addict’s loved ones become psychologically codependent on the trauma surrounding the addict and the addiction.[9]

Codependent relationshipWhile it’s challenging to pinpoint codependence, the act of relying on another’s addiction to feel in control is damaging to everyone involved. The codependent process puts an addict and his loved one into a dysfunctional relationship. When a partner makes such an extensive effort to save the addict that it takes over her identity, it’s time for change. Codependents end up having a difficult time caring for themselves (although they manage the addict and others well enough), stating their goals, and leading a fulfilling life. Even when a relationship isn’t codependent, an addiction is toxic. Loved ones intimately involved with an addict must be careful not to lose themselves in the process.

The Cost to Society

Just as the toll of addiction on families is steep, the cost for society is high as well. Taxpayer dollars go toward drug enforcement activities, treatment, and public education. While some Americans feel these expenses are a drain on society, drug users and addicts suffer with many factors outside of their control. Ascribing blame to them is not helpful to their recovery. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), substance abuse costs Americans $600 billion per year. These costs are due to health care, crime, and lost production expenses.

Substance use also is a risk factor for the following societal issues:

  • Drunk or drugged driving: at least 10 percent to 22 percent of accidents involve drugs, even more involve alcohol
  • Violence: at least half of people arrested for a violent crime are under the influence of illegal drugs
  • Child abuse: At least two-thirds of people in an addiction treatment center report physical or sexual abuse as children[10]

All costs associated with drug and alcohol use continue to rise, but much of government spending on treatment efforts ends up saving lives and money. Every dollar allocated to drug treatment creates a $4 to $7 reduction in costs associated with theft, drug-related crimes, and criminal justice fees. When researchers include savings from health care costs, the savings of treatment exceed costs at a 12:1 ratio. Decades of research shows treatment is one of the most effective ways to stop a person’s drug use and reduce abuse and violence within families and society.[11]

Employers also lose when employers suffer with addiction because of reduced productivity and missed days at work. Some employers who learn of an employee’s substance abuse opt to terminate the employee, while others choose the more compassionate and cost-effective path of sending the employee to addiction treatment. From an expense standpoint, the cost of hiring and training a new employee often exceeds the cost of financing an employee’s rehab and making arrangements for their temporary leave.

Employers who encourage an employee to seek drug treatment services also experience the following:

  • Increase in productivity: Treatment improves the overall health of the employee, giving rise to a boost in productivity
  • Humane reasons: Substance use disorder is an illness, employers should view it as other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, and offer the same standard of care
  • Cost savings: Terminating employees brings on high company expenditures for exit costs (such as severance pay), vacancy costs, replacement costs, and training expenses; such costs should be weighed against the cost of treatment
  • Greater company loyalty: Bringing an employer into the recovery process builds trust between the employee, the employer, and the company in general; such actions boost office morale as other employees appreciate compassionate treatment; an employee is unlikely to slander an employer who assists with his recovery, while terminating an employee for this reason could bring on bitter feelings[12]

No two addiction stories are the same, nor do they involve the same financial, social, and health costs. Thinking about the cost of substance abuse touches on every facet of life, well beyond the addict’s bank account.

Finding Addiction Treatment

If you’d like to avoid the long-term costs of addiction on every level, we can help. Contact us here at Michael’s House to learn how we can help you.


[1] Mahapatra, Lisa. “Silk Road vs. Street: A Comparison of Drug Prices on the Street and in Different Countries.” Business International Times. October 3, 2013.

[2] Perdue, T., Sherba, R., “Drug Abuse Trends in the Cincinnati Region.” OSAM/, 2013

[3] “OxyContin (New OP, Hard to Crush).” StreetRx. 2017.

[4] Frontline staff. “What is Meth?” Frontline.2006, updated 2011.

[5] Bernstein, Lenny. “Why a Bag of Heroin Costs Less Than a Pack of Cigarettes.” The Washington Post.August 27, 2015.

[6] Tuttle, Brad. “Booze & Caffeine: Latest Revelations About Your Drinking Habits.” Time. August 24, 2012.

[7] Bosari, Jessica. “The Cost of Addiction on Families.” Forbes.June 19, 2012.

[8] “Understanding Drug Use and Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. August, 2016.

[9] Beattie, M. Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself. (1st Harper & Row Ed.). New York, NY: Harper/Hazelden. 1987.

[10] “Drug Abuse is Costly. Drug Abuse and Addiction: One of America’s Most Challenging Public Health Problems.” NIDA. June, 2005.

[11] “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).” NIDA.December, 2012.

[12] Stuckert, Jeffrey. “Seeking Drug and Alcohol Treatment for Employees.” PsychCentral. 2013.