Those who abuse drugs and alcohol are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors, have a higher co-occurrence of mental disorders, and are more likely to be incarcerated for crimes committed than non-drug using individuals. The burden in terms of costs, trauma, and influence on the nation’s youth is substantial.
According to a recent study, nearly 24 million people in the United States abuse illicit drugs, nearly 18 million people abuse alcohol, and in 2012 alone 22,114 people died of prescription drug overdoses.
At any given time, approximately 10 percent of the US population is abusing drugs and alcohol, with multitudes of families, friends, neighbors, employers, and co-workers being directly affected. The costs associated with drug and alcohol use total nearly $600 billion in lost revenue, health care, legal fees, and damages each year.
Drug abuse is associated with higher rates of foster care child placements, child abuse, college sexual assaults, prison sentences, and lost productivity coupled with increased work-related injuries.
How Drug Abuse Impacts Families
Those closest to a drug-addicted individual are the hardest hit. Common patterns emerge within families where at least one individual is addicted to drugs. These patterns include high levels of criticism or negativism within households, parental inconsistency, or in the case of parents coping with a drug-addicted child, denial. Misdirected anger between drug-addicted and non-addicted family members is common as is self-medication as a strategy in coping with family dysfunction.
Co-dependent relationships often form between partners, where at least one partner is addicted to drugs and the majority of domestic disputes involve the use of alcohol or drugs. Children with one or more parents abusing drugs are more likely to take on the responsibility of the parental role, often functioning in denial of their parents’ addiction or behaviors relating to the addiction. These children commonly lack necessities, including shelter, and have little to no health care.
Similarly, families with at least one drug-addicted parent are more likely to end up homeless or in poverty and are less likely to have adequate health care, representing a common barrier in obtaining treatment for the addiction.
Drug or alcohol abuse is the primary cause of more than 75 percent of all foster placements, and 80 percent of all child abuse and neglect cases cite drug or alcohol abuse as a primary factor. Rates of substance abuse among youth in foster care are significantly higher than in comparative populations.
Specific drug types are associated with higher rates of child custody losses. For example, fewer than 10 percent of babies born to untreated heroin addicted mothers reside their biological mothers at five years of age. And sadly, children of drug addicted individuals are eight times as likely to abuse drugs as adults.
Strain Of Drug Addiction On Employers And Co-Workers
A 2006 study estimated that around 19 million people drink alcohol while at work, just before leaving for work, or go to work with hangover symptoms. This staggering number does not necessarily reflect daily abuse of alcohol at the workplace, but it does suggest a prevalence of accepted use of the intoxicant, despite known risks. Losses in revenue from decreased productivity due to illicit drug use in the workplace totals nearly $200 billion annually.
Co-workers of drug-addicted people take on additional responsibilities at work to accommodate decreases in productivity. They also work longer hours “covering for” drug addicted individuals who fail to show up as scheduled. Someone working while under the influence of drugs and alcohol is at higher risk of workplace related injury, resulting in increased insurance premiums passed on to employers and co-workers.
A loss in productivity affects employers directly, and if drug-use is rampant, can result in loss of the business. Smaller to medium-sized businesses are most at risk of failure resulting from drug related decreases in productivity. Estimates suggest working drug users are a third less productive than their non-drug using co-workers.
Strain On Health Care System
Addiction is a chronic disease in this country. If you add up the annual accumulative costs of treatment for all brain-related diseases and double it; that’s nearly the amount spent on addiction each year. Much of the money supporting the medical costs associated with drug addiction is absorbed by hospitals and taxpayers, with approximately 20 percent of Medicaid dollars and $1 in $4 Medicare dollars going to drug-addiction related expenses. The health care burden relating to drug abuse alone exceeds $180 billion annually.
Co-occurring mental disorders commonly precede or are the result of long term drug use and can increase costs associated with care. These costs are passed to the taxpayer and employer through higher insurance premiums and taxation. Coupled with a loss in productivity and lost wages, drug abuse represents an enormous financial burden on society and the economy.
Crime And Drug Addiction
Drug-related incarcerations make up more than 50 percent of federal prison populations and nearly 20 percent of state prison populations. Annual costs averaged across 50 states for state prison populations is greater than $32,000 per inmate, with federal stays averaging more than $26,000 per person, and the average drug-specific crime resulting in prison sentences of between three and nine years. Taxpayers shoulder the burden of $45 billion dollars for state prisons and $144 million for federal prisons annually.
The majority–approximately 80 percent–of incarcerated individuals has or is currently abusing illicit drugs or alcohol. Drug abuse is associated with substantial increases in rates of violent crime. Alcohol is a factor in 40 percent of the nearly 500,000 violent crime arrests made annually.
Approximately a quarter of incarcerated individuals said their incarceration related directly to crimes committed to obtain money for drugs. On average, 5 percent of all homicides relate to drug use. Unfortunately, untreated, recidivism rates for drug use following prison release are as high as 95 percent.
On college campuses across the country, 95 percent of violent crimes reported, including sexual assaults, involve the use of alcohol. Violent crimes committed on college campuses can result in health care costs for the victims of these crimes, as well as lost revenue for universities.
How Drug Abuse Affects Society:
- Increase in child custody losses
- Increase in child abuse and neglect
- Increase in addiction risks for children of drug-addicted parents
- Increase in domestic disputes
- Increased rates of homelessness and poverty
- Substantial financial health care burden
- Increased rates of co-occurring mental disorders
- Increase in insurance premiums, taxes
- Increased strain on co-workers
- Increase in the number of people incarcerated in state and federal prisons
- Increase in rates of violent crimes on college campuses
- Losses in revenue for businesses and universities
Drug addiction is a complex illness with far-reaching consequences for those who know, work with, and support the drug-addicted individual. Even if you don’t know someone who is abusing drugs directly, you are likely impacted in other ways, whether through taxation, paying higher insurance premiums or college tuition, or in picking up hours at work. Drug addiction knows no boundaries.