The direct and indirect costs of substance use disorders are massive.
More than 20 million Americans have drug or alcohol problems severe enough to call for some form of substance use treatment[i]. However, less than four million Americans receive any kind of treatment. The direct and indirect costs of substance use disorders are massive. Wider use of effective addiction treatment programs would significantly cut these costs while making sure people get the help they need.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) makes yearly estimates of the number of people in the U.S. who need substance treatment. The latest SAMHSA figures, covering the year 2016, show that roughly 21 million people over the age of 11 need help. That’s the equivalent of almost 8 percent of the total population in this age range.
By percentage, the single largest group with a need for drug or alcohol treatment is young adults age 18 to 25. More than 15 percent of all Americans in this age range have a serious substance problem. By sheer numbers, the group most in need of treatment is adults over the age of 25. More than two-thirds of all people with serious drug or alcohol problems (14.5 million) fall into this category.
SAMHSA figures show that roughly 3.8 million Americans over the age of 11 enter some form of substance use treatment. This is less than one-fifth of the total population affected by drug or alcohol problems. By percentage, people between the ages of 18 and 25 receive help most often. By sheer numbers, people over the age of 25 receive help most often. Many people who reach out for help turn to a specialized addiction treatment facility. However, over a million and a half of those with a substance use disorder get help from a general physician or some other professional not focused on addiction treatment.
Several federal agencies — including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — periodically estimate the social and financial drain of substance abuse and addiction in the United States. The CDC’s most recent estimate of the cost of alcohol problems[ii] is nearly $250 billion a year. Loss of productivity in the workplace accounts for most of this total. In descending order of the amount of money spent annually, other alcohol-related costs include:
Roughly 40 percent of the bill for these costs is picked up by local, state and federal governments. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ most recent estimates indicate that the cost of nicotine/tobacco addiction is roughly $300 billion a year.[iii] Over half of this total comes from the need to provide healthcare for people affected by tobacco-related illnesses.
The most recent estimates for the cost of problems related to the use of illicit and illegal drugs exceed $190 billion a year. Estimates for the cost of problems related to prescription painkiller abuse/addiction are just below $80 billion a year. A conservative estimate for the direct and indirect costs of substance abuse and addiction is $740 billion a year.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse has analyzed the cost of substance treatment[iv] compared to the direct and indirect cost of untreated drug and alcohol problems. Researchers at the agency conclude that the social and health-related drain of untreated abuse and addiction far outweighs the amount of money it would take to treat all affected people.
The biggest savings appear in the amount of money it takes to meet the health needs of people with untreated substance use problems. NIDA estimates that every dollar spent on treatment programs reduces the nation’s healthcare costs by $5 to $8, or even more. In addition, each dollar spent on treatment results in a roughly $4 to $7 dollar drop in the amount of money lost to:
Other treatment cost savings include:
The only way to reap the full financial and social benefits of substance use treatment is to get more Americans enrolled in treatment programs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse identifies several steps which can help improve the rate of program participation[v]. These steps include:
NIDA researchers note that these techniques must be combined and not used separately. To support the role of doctors who don’t specialize in substance treatment, the National Institute on Drug Abuse is undertaking campaigns designed to ease the use of abuse/addiction screening procedures. The agency is also increasing its support for a substance abuse deterrent technique called brief intervention, as well as its support for effective referral systems for people who need to enroll in treatment.
Transformations Treatment Center is dedicated to helping people from all walks of life receive the help they need for substance abuse and addiction. Our medical and therapeutic treatments are administered by addiction professionals in a safe and caring environment. Whether you or your loved one require inpatient care or outpatient care, our certified programs offer individualized plans designed to provide a solid pathway to sobriety.