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Debt And Addiction

Millions of Americans struggle with debt and addiction. The cost of addiction and how it effects a person’s body and mind can land anyone, even with an established career, in debt.

The Cost Of Addiction

With addiction comes negative impacts on a person’s mental and physical health, their relationship with family, friends, and coworkers, and oftentimes their finances. One of the main criteria that someone has a substance use disorder (SUD) is the presence of difficulties with their job (career disruption) or school. When the addiction becomes severe, alcohol or the drug of choice becomes the top priority in the addict’s life, and they often don’t realize it until they are experiencing health problems, relationship strain, legal involvement, or financial trouble (e.g., debt, repossessions, bankruptcies, and foreclosures). The connection between debt and addiction has been an ongoing issue for the millions of people that are living with a SUD.

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The cost of substance abuse to the United States is estimated at $740 billion annually, related to health care, lost productivity, and crime. The price of drugs alone can cost the individual an astronomical amount depending on how much they need to purchase to maintain their habit. As a person’s tolerance increases, they will need to use more of the same drug to get the desired effect. One drug that can create a tolerance in its user, as well as produce terrible withdrawal effects if they stop using, is methamphetamine. An average dose, or “hit,” of meth is estimated at a quarter of a gram. Depending on the purity of the drug and the location in the country, a hit can cost between $20 and $80. Heavy users can use up to 3 grams of meth per day, and with 1 gram costing between $60 and $300, this can add up extremely quickly.

The street price of Heroin is estimated at an average of $152 per gram, which is then divided into about 20 baggies that can be sold anywhere from $5 to $20. Severe heroin addicts have been known to purchase 10 to 15 bags a day. Street prices for Cocaine can vary widely, but it is generally considered an expensive addiction to maintain. A gram of cocaine in the United States is at an average of $93, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Someone with a severe cocaine addiction may use up to 5 grams per day.

Those who struggle with debt and addiction do not have to be illicit drug users. One of the most common addictions is to a legal substance: alcohol. Alcohol is fairly inexpensive and easily accessible. A person holding down a job should have no issue affording enough alcohol to feed their addiction, but those with an addiction often find their work performance to be impacted. Whether someone is missing work to use or is showing up to work high or hungover, this can result in the loss of promotions and career progression, and oftentimes lead to termination of employment. For an addict to be able to use every day, it is unlikely that they will be able to hold down a job for an extended period of time as their addiction progresses.

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Debt And Addiction Numbers

Numerous studies have demonstrated that having a SUD can lead to economic challenges and be a barrier to employment. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, people with a SUD can usually maintain sobriety, or get “clean enough,” to undergo a successful job interview. However, there is often a cycle of relapse and recovery. Many jobs require drug testing and if someone has suffered a recent relapse, they may lose their job and have to start the cycle over again.

These relapse and recovery cycles coincide with waves of employment resulting in temporary employment and employment in under-the-table jobs.

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Periods of unemployment, in addition to spending money on substances, can lead to the accumulation of debt, which can be worsened if someone is still spending money on their addiction. In a study that examined SUD and child support, researchers found that people with a SUD had higher child support debt. Another challenge that can impact finances is having a criminal record due to their past substance use. Many jobs bar people with a criminal record, making it that much more challenging to find work. Even a first-time offense can plunge someone into debt. For example, a survey of first-time DUI offenses found that it cost individuals an average of $6,500, not including the $4,400 in lost wages. Lastly, gambling addiction and SUDs often go hand in hand. Gambling addiction can quickly create insurmountable debt.

If you or someone you know is experiencing debt, self-help groups like Debtor Anonymous or county agencies and private companies can help you create a plan to improve your finances.

Addictions That Can Lead To Debt

The ways that drug and alcohol addiction can lead to debt are numerous. Those with a SUD take more sick days than those without a SUD, they may have higher difficulty holding down a job, they may face drug-related legal issues, and those with a SUD are more likely to suffer from mental health issues which leads to greater financial difficulty. The link between debt and addiction does not only occur from a drug or alcohol addiction. Those with a behavioral addiction like gambling can end up in a financial crisis. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, some signs that someone may have gambling addiction include:

  • “There are overdue or unpaid household bills, or the suspected gambler suddenly wants to take over paying the bills.”
  • “The suspected gambler is only able to afford minimum payments on credit card bills.”
  • “He or she is always short of money, despite adequate income.”
  • “Money is pulled from savings, investment, or retirement accounts for no apparent reason.”
  • “The individual is borrowing money from co-workers.”
  • “The gambler frequently asks for advances in pay.”

Treatment For People With Debt And Addiction

Fortunately, for those with debt and addiction, there are obtainable treatment options. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug addiction treatment reduces, “associated health and social costs by far more than the cost of the treatment itself.” It is more cost-effective to offer treatment than to incarcerate individuals. A year of Methadone maintenance treatment is $4,700 per patient, compared to $24,000 a year for imprisonment. In many cases, insurance will cover part or all of the treatment. Certain individuals may also be eligible to receive disability benefits for damages caused by drug addiction. Outpatient rehabilitation is also an option that will work with a patient’s schedule so that they can continue working while receiving treatment, but this may be appropriate after completing initial intensive inpatient rehabilitation.

If you’re not sure where to start, contact a treatment provider for free to discuss available options. Providers are available 24/7. Don’t wait. Begin your journey towards overcoming debt and addiction today.

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