Brain cells are sensitive, and after long-term exposure to substances of abuse, those cells can change. Brain cell alterations can cause a spike in cravings for drugs, and those cravings can be difficult to ignore. When this medical process is in place, it can be hard for people to quit using drugs without the help of a medical professional.
Medical issues require treatment. When people develop heart disease, for example, they know they must work with doctors to get better, and they may know that there are costs associated with the care.
Addiction is no different. This is a medical condition that requires treatment, and there are costs associated with that care. People who have addictions may be expected to cover at least some of those costs, but thankfully, there are programs available that can make them easier to bear.
There are several different types of addiction treatment programs, and each program may come with a different cost and payment model. Facilities may also offer different types and levels of therapy to their clients, depending on their addictions and their histories.
All of this variability can make it hard for families to understand costs. But there are some studies available that can clear up the confusion and make pricing information easier to understand.
In one such study, published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, researchers examined the weekly cost of a variety of different programs. These are the results:
This is an older study, and costs have risen since the study was published, but the figures here demonstrate rising prices with rising intensity of care. People who must move into a facility should expect to pay more than people who continue to live at home.
It’s not uncommon for people to use multiple levels of care. Someone who stays in an inpatient facility for a time might be able to move to an outpatient program as healing progresses. So a person’s costs might change over time as well.
Some types of addictions, including addictions to opioids, require a long treatment period. Opioids can cause an incredible amount of damage to brain tissue, and there are medications that can help to amend that damage. Long-term medication treatment comes with additional costs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), treatment with the drug methadone, paired with therapy and support services, can cost about $126 per week.
Since addictions are medical conditions, health insurance coverage can help people to pay for the treatment they need. Programs are required to provide this kind of coverage.
For example, for a health plan to be in compliance with the federal health insurance marketplace, it must cover therapy, at both the inpatient and the outpatient level, for a substance abuse issue. That coverage can’t be denied due to an addiction that was in place before the person signed up for care, says HealthCare.gov.
Insurance offered through the marketplace isn’t dependent on employment, meaning that anyone can get this kind of insurance, including people who are self-employed or unemployed. Those who have this level of insurance may have to pay a deductible, or a portion of the cost of care, but their insurance program will help them to pay for the majority of the services they need.
Health insurance can be expensive, however. In Illinois in 2017, for example, the monthly price for a silver plan for a 21-year-old nonsmoker was estimated at $312 by Time magazine.
Marketplace insurance plans come with subsidies, so those of low income can get help with premium payments. States may also have Medicaid programs available that subsidize some or all of the cost of healthcare for those who cannot afford it without help.
Using insurance coverage is one of the best ways to cover the cost of addiction care, but it isn’t the only method available.
State-run programs often provide addiction treatment to people who cannot afford the traditional cost of care. Some programs offer care on a sliding scale, so people pay only what they can afford for the treatment they need. Others offer state-sponsored care, so people pay no fee for the help they access.
There is a great deal of demand for this kind of care, so it isn’t uncommon for people to experience long waiting lists and delays for care. Each moment of delay allows the addiction to progress, which could lead to a larger amount of addiction-related brain damage. For some people, finding a way to pay for treatment is preferable to allowing the addiction to move forward unchecked.
While addiction treatment comes with costs, allowing the addiction to move forward also has financial impact. As people deepen their addictions, their bodies become more and more accustomed to the presence of drugs. In time, people must take in very large amounts of drugs in order to achieve a high once possible with a smaller amount of drugs. That habit can become very expensive very quickly.
In an article published by Vice reporters asked people with a history of addictions to disclose how much they spent each day on their addictions. Daily costs per drug of abuse include:
A daily habit like this could easily cost more than a treatment program to address that addiction. That remains true even if people need medications to assist with the recovery process.
Addiction costs do not stay stable over time. Someone who has an addiction will need more of the substance to achieve the same high. That means the cost of maintaining the addiction will continue to rise with each passing day. As that dependence grows, people may grow increasingly dependent on their drug suppliers. Those suppliers may choose to raise their rates at any time, and they may do so when they know they have a captive buying base that will pay anything for a high. That makes the cost not only unstable but unpredictable. People may never know how much the addiction will impact them financially on any given day.
Addictions can also cause people to lose their jobs. People who are consistently high may not be capable of heading to work each day. They may make mistakes while on the job. They may offend customers or coworkers. Adding the cost of a lost job to the cost of the addiction raises the price of that addiction by a great deal.
Addictions can also cause very serious health problems that require intense medical care. Someone who abuses cocaine for long periods, for example, can damage the heart muscle. That can require medication or surgical correction, both of which could be expensive. Adding the cost of care to the cost of drugs also raises the cost of addiction maintenance.
While addictions can certainly cost an individual or a family a great deal of money, they can also place an extreme burden on society as a whole.
According to NIDA, substance abuse costs the nation more than $600 billion each year.
This is due to criminal investigations, incarceration, and treatment. NIDA reports that treatment is the most cost-effective expenditure. Each dollar invested in treatment programs provides a yield of $4 to $7 in reductions in crime, criminal justice costs, and theft.
Research like this highlights just how effective drug addiction treatment programs can be in reducing societal costs. Each person who receives care in a reputable program and gets help with an addiction contributes to a better society.
Addictions can be persistent, and when they are in place, they can cloud judgment and make decision-making difficult. That may be why people with addictions cite cost as a reason to stay out of the programs they need. While there is strong evidence to prove that getting care is the most cost-effective choice, they may persist in the belief that they cannot afford care.
Families can overcome this mistaken belief by helping to straighten out payment plans for the person who needs care. Addiction treatment administrators are often happy to help with this step. That way, when the family proposes a treatment plan, there will be one less reason to resist the care that is so desperately needed.
(February 2008) The Economic Costs of Substance Abuse Treatment: Updated Estimates and Cost Bands for Program Assessment and Reimbursement. The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. Retrieved from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2614666/
(June 2018) Medications to Treat Opioid Use Disorder. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/medications-to-treat-opioid-addiction/how-much-does-opioid-treatment-cost
(October 2016) Eight States Where Obamacare Rates Are Rising at Least 30%. Time. Retrieved from from http://time.com/money/4535394/obamacare-plan-premium-price-increases-2017-states/
(March 2016) We Asked Drug Addicts How Much Their Habit Costs Them. Vice. Retrieved from from https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/nn9p3k/the-cost-of-being-a-drug-addict-in-canada
(January 2018) Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition) National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/drug-addiction-treatment-worth-its-cost