Conversations about the national drug crisis usually address the toll on humanity—overdose deaths, crime, and the impact on society. But looking at it another way—in FINANCIAL terms—how much does it cost to maintain an addiction? The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that the abuse of and addiction to nicotine, alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription medications has an economic impact on American society of over $700 BILLION every year. This figure includes health care costs, lost productivity, and crime-related expenses. In fact, the opioid epidemic ALONE creates an annual economic burden of $78.5 BILLION. But on a more personal level, how do those staggering numbers break down for individual users? In other words, how much money does the average person spend supporting alcohol or drug habit? No pun intended the answers are rather sobering.
Alcohol—Drinking Drains the Wallet
“I agree that it’s hard to imagine consuming 10 drinks a day, (but) there are a remarkable number of people who drink a couple of six packs a day, or a pint of whiskey.” ~ Phillip J. Cook, “Paying the Tab: The Costs and Benefits of Alcohol Control”
Alcohol is the most commonly-used intoxicant in the United States. Approximately 86% of American adults have drunk alcohol at some point in their lives, and approximately two-thirds currently drink. The average “casual” drinker consumes 4 drinks per week. If those drinks are consumed at a bar at $10 apiece (plus tax), that’s almost $2400 a year. And that doesn’t cover the “incidentals” of drinking—cab fare, tips, cover charge, etc. But people who abuse alcohol aren’t “casual” drinkers. In fact, according to statistics quoted by the Washington Post, the top 10% of drinkers—nearly 24 million Americans—drink an average of 74 drinks per week or over 10 drinks per day. Let’s look at that in more familiar terms. Even if drinking only at home, that equates to, weekly:
- 3 cases of Budweiser beer: $21 apiece, $63 per week, $3276 per year
- 4.5 750ml bottles of Jack Daniels whiskey: $20 apiece, $90 per week, $4680 per year
- 18 bottles of wine: $15 apiece, $270 per week, $14040 per year
If any of that drinking is done at a bar or restaurant, the costs increase exponentially.
Cigarettes—Burning through Cash
“I and most people really just think of the cost of cigarettes and taxes on the packs. But if you think about the health-care costs, which can totally be avoided, health-care insurance premiums, and in the workplace bias against smokers, that can…add up.” ~ Jill Gonzalez, spokeswoman for WalletHub, a personal finance website
Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 37.8 million American adults smoke cigarettes. The nicotine contained in cigarettes is among the most addictive substances in the world. Annually, smoking-related costs place a $300 billion burden on society. The average price of a pack of cigarettes depends on the location, from a low of $5.25 in Virginia and Missouri to a high of $12.85 in New York. Leaving out these extremes, cigarettes cost between $6 and $8 a pack in most states. Smoking becomes a very costly habit:
- Average Smokers (1 pack/day): $2190-$2920 per year
- Moderate Smoker (Up to 2 packs): $4380-$5840
- Heavy Smoker (Up to 3 packs): $6570-$8760
- Chain Smoker (Up to 4 packs): $8760-$11680
Again, this is just in most states. In New York, smoking is so expensive that over 55% of the cigarettes smoked are smuggled in from out of state. But the cost of the cigarettes themselves is only part of the true cost of maintaining a smoking addiction. Smokers can also expect:
- Elevated insurance premiums—health, life, home owner’s, and even automobile
- Greater health care, dental, and medication costs
- Higher unemployment
- Difficulties in finding a job
- Lower wages—an average of more than 25% less
- Reduced home and auto resale values
In fact, smoking cigarettes costs the average user an astonishing $1.1 million—MINIMUM—over the course of their lifetime. Again, these numbers vary by location. For example, smokers in Alaska will incur lifetime costs of over $2 million. That’s a high cost to maintain an addiction.
Marijuana—Up in Smoke
Even though it is illegal in most states, marijuana trails only alcohol and cigarettes among commonly-used drugs. Over 78 million people surveyed self-report trying pot at some point. 55 million say they used marijuana within the past year, and 35 million do so monthly. Obviously, the price of marijuana is different in locations where it has been decriminalized, compared to those states where it is still illegal. Sample prices for an ounce of marijuana, low-to-high quality:
- District of Columbia: $366 to $600
- Georgia: $159 to $319
- Oklahoma: $140 to $346
- California: $193 to $254
- Washington: $172 to $234
- Colorado: $220 to $242
- Illinois: $211 to $355
For casual recreational users, an ounce of marijuana will yield approximately 50 joints. In Colorado, it is estimated that the average marijuana user consumes 3.53 ounces per year. If usage rates are roughly equivalent in every state:
- A Washington State casual marijuana user would spend between $607 and $826 in a year
- A Colorado user, between $777 and $854
- A District of Columbia user, between $1292 and $2118.
But those are just average users – how much might a heavy marijuana user spend? The marijuana cigarettes used by heavy users are, on average, much larger than those used by casual users, reducing the yield of an ounce to as few as 30 joints. Assuming 1 to 2 joints per day, the cost of a significant marijuana habit jumps considerably. Using the same three states as examples:
- Washington State – between $2093 and $5694 per year
- Colorado – between $2677 and $5889
- District of Columbia – $4453 and $14,600
These figures only take into account the average prices of marijuana. It does not take into account specialty strains, concentrates, or paraphernalia like bongs or pipes.
Marijuana Contributes to Socioeconomic Problems
“There is a common perception that cannabis is safer than alcohol. But this study shows that … cannabis is just as bad as alcohol. And in terms of financial problems, cannabis is worse.” ~ Dr. Magdalena Cerda, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, the University of California Davis
But the financial impact of using marijuana goes beyond simply how much is spent on the drug. According to a 2016 study, regular users of cannabis experienced more financial difficulties than non-users, including cash flow problems and debt management.
- 52% of frequent cannabis users within the middle-class “experienced downward mobility”.
- Among non-users, the rate was only 14%.
- Inversely, 33% of those who did not use cannabis moved UP the socioeconomic ladder.
- Among frequent users, that rate was just 7%.
Of special relevance, the report read in part, “On average, persistent cannabis users from middle-class origins attained lower adult socioeconomic status than did their parents…”
In response to the ongoing opioid epidemic, both the government and the medical community enacted new rules and guidelines regarding the prescribing of painkilling drugs. Unfortunately, those moves have unintended consequences:
- Black-market prescription drugs are harder to obtain – and hence, more expensive – than ever.
- Heroin has seen a resurgence in popularity. 80% of heroin users started out by misusing prescription drugs.
- Cheap, easy-to-manufacturer synthetic opioids have exploded, and are now the driving force behind overdose deaths.
According to the crowdsourcing resource site StreetRx, here are the street values of various prescription opioid painkillers:
- OxyContin, 20mg – up to $80 per pill
- Percocet, 10 mg – up to $40
- Dilaudid, 8 mg – up to $25
- Vicodin, 10 mg – up to $10
- Lortab, 10 mg – up to $10
- Fentanyl lozenges, 200 µg – up to $20 per lozenge
A person who has built up an opioid tolerance can easily spend $150-$200 or more per day on prescription painkillers, or between $54,750 and $73,000 per year. At this price, many opioid addicts look for cheaper alternatives. They find that alternative in heroin. A person initiating heroin use might begin with an inhaled dosage of between 5 mg and 20 mg, or between 5 mg and 10 mg if taken intravenously. But because tolerance to heroin develops rapidly, that amount increases dramatically. A full-blown heroin addict “maxes out” at between 300 mg and 500 mg per day. In 2015, a Washington Post article compared the price of heroin to that of a pack of cigarettes, because the street value of a single dose of heroin ranged between a low of $4.41 in Missouri to a high of $10.29 in New York. This means a heroin addict will spend between $66 and $257 per day to support their habit or between $24,000 and $93,805 annually. That is the high cost to maintain an addiction.
Meth—Spending with Speed
Right now, the methamphetamine supply in the United States is at a near all-time high, while prices are at historic lows, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s latest Drug Threat Assessment. A pure gra10m of methamphetamine can be purchased for as little as $58. A new user can achieve pleasurable stimulation by snorting just 15 mg of meth, but tolerant individuals will require triple or even quadruple that amount to achieve their desired rush. Of special relevance, one common way to use methamphetamine is to take another dose every few hours for several days in a row. This means that heavy meth users can go through up to 2 g a day. Maintaining a serious methamphetamine addiction can cost over $40,000 a year.
Cocaine—Blowing Your Budget
“The danger is in the abuse. Coke is an easy drug to abuse, because it is rapidly metabolized. There is rapid absorption into the body, but it also leaves the body rapidly, so the user, if he can afford it, does some more coke, and when that detoxifies, he does some more.” ~ Dan MacLean, Chemist and drug researcher
The DEA’s Drug Threat Assessment reports that the number of first-time cocaine users and cocaine-related overdose deaths are at their highest in over a decade. This indicates increased availability, which explains why retail cocaine prices fell by over 18%. Currently, a pure gram of cocaine costs $165, but that is not at all what the end-user. The variance comes from individual suppliers and dealers, who will look to increase profits by diluting or “cutting” cocaine with other substances. By the time it reaches the individual user, there is virtually no way short of testing to know the purity or potency. Average purity in 2016 was 56%. A “typical” dose of cocaine is approximately 50 mg, but the effects are very short-lived, lasting only 30 minutes. Cocaine addicts will dose again and again, easily consuming a daily total of a gram or more. Of special relevance, people who have acquired a very high tolerance for cocaine may consume significantly more, up to a gram per dose. This is why a moderate cocaine addiction can easily cost $150 a day, or around $55,000 per year. Severe cocaine addiction is far more expensive, however, reaching hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars a day.
Benzodiazepines – Enough to Keep You up at Night
Benzodiazepine tranquilizers such as Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, Restoril, or Valium, typically prescribed for anxiety or insomnia, are among the most addictive and dangerous prescription drugs available. It goes underreported, but up to one-third of all prescription drug deaths involve “benzos”. Within the past two decades, the number of American adults receiving benzodiazepine prescriptions jumped from 1 million to 13.5 million people. Perhaps even more significant, the amount of medication contained in those prescriptions has increased by approximately 40%. Benzo tranquilizers can cause dependence in as little as two weeks, and even taking them “as needed” as directed by a doctor can lead to misuse, dependence, addiction, and drug-seeking behaviors. Examples of illicit benzodiazepine prices:
- Xanax, 2 mg: $10 per pill
- Valium, 5 mg: $5
- Ativan, 2 mg: $5
- Klonopin, 2 mg: $5
While this may not sound like too much on a per-pill basis, at levels of abuse, this means that multiple doses per day, meaning a benzodiazepine addiction can easily cost $60 a day or more, or at least $21,900 per year.
Club Drugs—It’s Not a Party
Primarily used by partygoers and fans of discos, EDM, and raves, so-called “club” or “party” drugs are used to promote the experience through hallucinatory, disinhibited, or aphrodisiacal qualities.
- Ecstasy, 75 mg-125 mg: Up to $25 per pill
- Ketamine, 100 mg: $50
- “Magic” Mushrooms, 3.5 g: $25
- LSD, 50 µg-150 µg: Up to $25 per hit
- GHB, .5 g-3 g: Up to $25 per dose
Designer Drugs—The Expense is Real
Some drug manufacturers will try to circumvent existing drug laws by synthesizing drugs with chemical formulas that have not yet been prohibited by law. This would include so-called “synthetic marijuana” products with names such as Spice or K2 and “synthetic methamphetamine” products with names like Bath Salts, Cloud Nine, or Bliss.
- Synthetic marijuana: $25 per gram online, up to $50 a gram on the street
- Synthetic methamphetamine/cathinone: up to $30 per gram online
Drunk Spending—Buying while Boozing
Although it’s not money spent on alcohol, it’s money spent because of alcohol. Drunken spending is a REAL thing, and it adds up. Almost half of all US adult drinkers admit to shopping while under the influence of alcohol. The average drunk shopper spent $448 in 2017 – more than double 2016’s total of $206. And as the number of too-convenient shopping apps for smartphones continues to increase, the amount spent on drugs and shopping is only going to go up.
The Added Cost of Multiple Addictions
Lost in the conversation about how much the average addict might spend on their compulsive habit is the fact. Fact that people who abuse one substance are at a greater likelihood of abusing others. Obviously, this increases the total financial costs. For example:
- 85% of people who are dependent on alcohol are ALSO nicotine-dependent.
- 78% of people who use marijuana also smoke cigarettes.
- 73% of heroin addicts also use benzodiazepines.
- Up to 60% of patients taking opioids for chronic pain use benzodiazepines regularly.
- 2005-2011, there were almost 250,000 ER trips for opioid/benzodiazepine combinations.
- During that same time period, there were nearly 164,000 ER visits for alcohol/benzodiazepine combinations.
- There were an additional 43,000 ER visits when all three substances were used.
Paying the Piper—Addiction’s Other Costs
But addiction takes a terrible financial toll in other ways, as well, through increasingly-negative consequences:
- Higher high school dropout rates
- Poor job performance – absenteeism, decreased productivity, accidents, etc.
- Problems at work – suspensions, probation, termination
- Divorce – marriages where one partner is a heavy drinker and the other is not having a 60% higher chance of ending in divorce.
- DUIs – It costs an average of $10,000 to defend a first-time DUI charge, including lost wages.
- Drug charges – attorney’s fees, court costs, fines, restitution, etc.
- Insurance rates
- Medical bills
The Biggest Cost of All—the HUMAN Cost
Substance-abuse-related causes literally claim thousands of American lives every year:
- Smoking – over 480,000 deaths annually
- Alcohol – approximately 88,000 annual deaths
- Drug overdoses – more than 70,000 estimated deaths in 2017
- Prescription opioids – 1999-2016, there were more than 200,000 prescription painkiller overdose deaths.
- Heroin – 15,500 deaths in 2016
- Benzodiazepines – more than 7000 deaths in 2013
- Drunk driving crashes – One death every 29 minutes
To put some of these numbers in comparison, in 2017 alone, there were more American lives lost due to drug overdoses than occurred during the entire Vietnam War.
Addiction’s Hidden Costs—What Can’t be Measured
None of this takes into account the non-financial costs of substance abuse:
- Domestic violence
- Child neglect and abuse
- Generational addiction
- Mental illness
- Broken families
What Does All of This Mean?
Too many struggling alcoholics and drug addicts, the cost of rehab is the biggest barrier to seeking treatment. Simply put, substance abusers don’t think that they can afford to pay for drug detoxification and rehabilitation. When all of the factors are considered – both the ongoing cost and the associated consequences – the question changes from “How can I afford to go to rehab?” to “How can I afford to NOT to go to rehab?” In the end, maintaining a drinking or drug compulsion is far more expensive than professional help. In fact, under the current laws, your private insurance may make alcohol or drug treatment more affordable than ever.
If you are tired of paying for a disease that may be ruining your life, the best thing you can do for your health, your wallet, and your future is to call AspenRidge Recovery in Colorado directly at 855-281-5588.
Aspen Ridge Recovery Centers provides accredited addiction treatment programs at their drug and alcohol rehab centers located across Colorado. Their Fort Collins, CO, and Lakewood, CO rehab centers provide an environment where each individual receives total support for addiction recovery, through evidence-based and holistic treatments. Learn more at their site.