Here’s How Much America’s Addiction Problem Costs Us

Americans spend an estimated $276 billion every year drinking, smoking and taking drugs, according to a recent analysis. To give that huge figure some perspective, that’s more than the federal government spent in 2015 on education and veterans’ benefits combined.

About half of the spending goes toward alcohol and nicotine, according to the analysis by Addiction-Treatment.com, a Santa Monica, California-based organization that helps connect people with substance abuse disorders with treatment providers. The organization looked at a wide range of sources to compile their estimates, including published government figures, data analysis and news reports.

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Legal drugs nicotine and alcohol accounted for more than half of the total $276 billion spent, or roughly $140 billion. Broken down, nicotine made up around 52% of the money spent while alcohol made up 48%. The analysis broke the cost of alcohol abuse into two categories: binge drinkers (who consume six drinks over a short period, once or twice per week) comprising nearly 25% of money spent on abusing alcohol, and heavy drinkers (who consume about 21 drinks spread over a week) about 23%, the analysis showed.

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Non-medical prescription drugs — including pain relievers, tranquilizers and stimulants — made up almost 22% of the total drug use cost; and marijuana, cocaine, heroin and meth accounted for nearly 28% of the total. (Though marijuana is legal in some form in 23 states and Washington, D.C., it was grouped under illegal drugs for the purpose of this study.)

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Even more staggering than the estimated $276 billion spent, when the costs of active addictions are combined with the costs for treatment, enforcement actions against illegal sale and use, drug-related crime, accidents and lost productivity, addiction ends up costing Americans $1 trillion a year, the analysis found. That’s enough to, among other things, give every American over the age of 18 a check for $4,000 (see graphic below), the analysis concluded.

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