Which addictions cost society the most? Hands down, the “hard addictions” take the greatest toll on our economy, according to Forbes. Of course, many addictions (take pornography and sex addictions, for example) haven’t been researched extensively enough to make accurate comparisons. But of the data that do exist, Forbes managed to identify the top five most costly addiction.
- Alcohol: Alcohol costs an estimated $166 billion per year and makes a significant dent in overall health care spending.
- Cigarettes: Smoking costs an estimated $157 billion per year, including medical expenses and lost productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Drugs: Illicit drug use costs an estimated $110 billion per year. Those who abuse drugs are also likely to drink heavily.
- Overeating: Overeating costs an estimated $107 billion per year, reports the National Institutes of Health. The health risks of overeating are well-known and include heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, hypertension and gall bladder disease. These and other obesity-related problems cost an estimated $4 billion per year in lost productivity. A March 2012 study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that obesity actually adds more to individual health care costs than smoking does (health care costs were $1,275 higher for smokers and $1,850 higher for obese individuals).
- Gambling: Compulsive gambling costs an estimated $40 billion per year. The majority of these losses go toward counseling, lost productivity and social services, reports the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. Additional costs can be the result of bankruptcy, criminal sanctions, job loss and forced home sales.
In total, the cost of these problems to taxpayers equals $590 billion per year, according to government health agency studies. This figure does not include the amount of money people with these disorders spend on their drug or compulsive behavior of choice.
In 2005 alone, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that $276 billion was spent on health care, auto accidents, crime, lost productivity and premature death related to substance abuse. Treatment cost about $18 billion, which may sound hefty but the unfortunate reality is that the majority of the 22 million addicts in the U.S. do not get treatment.
How do we cut the high costs of addiction? Experts believe the answer lies in more effective, long-term treatment that is easier to access. Some employers are putting in place wellness programs that help workers quit smoking and get fit. By intervening early and working to destigmatize the disease of addiction, many of these costs can be minimized, and countless lives can be saved.