It’s True: Quitting Drinking will Net You Over a Million Dollars.
How long a time frame are we talking about here? According to my research, only 16 years.
Here’s the breakdown:
1) Money Spent on Alcohol and Other Drugs
According to this study done by the American Medical Association, alcoholic drinkers account for just under 50 percent of all alcohol purchases. Combined with sales data, this gives us a yearly average of about 4 to 5 thousand dollars per year that an alcoholic spends on alcohol, or about 10 to 15 dollars per day. This is right in line with what I averaged when I was still drinking, by the way, so this estimate seems right on the money to me.
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It is difficult to estimate the additional cost of other drugs consumed along with alcohol. From consuming illicit substances to simply buying Tylenol for hangovers, we will give this a very low estimate of 5 dollars per day. Note that there are some alcoholics who indulge in a variety of other drugs, and there are some who simply stick to alcohol. In spite of the research indicating the prevalence of cross-addiction, this estimate of only 5 dollars per day is indeed quite low.
Total Cost per Year: $7,300 = $5475 (alcohol) + $1825 (other drugs)
2) Costs of Consequences – such as court costs, DWI charges, Lost Work opportunities, Employability, etc.
These consequence costs can include a wide range of opportunities. For example, I personally obtained a college degree after quitting drinking, which will change my earning potential significantly. This would also include the difference between someone who is working a steady job and earning money in recovery versus someone who is still drinking heavily and spending time in jail due to drunk driving charges. Many alcoholics have reached a point of being unemployable altogether. Also included in this category are court costs, lost jobs as a result of legal problems and time spent in jail, and so on.
Remember that even if an alcoholic is managing to hold a steady job in spite of their drinking, they are still missing out on the opportunity cost of getting a better paying position, particularly through more education or training. The “average” alcoholic is not in a position to increase their livelihood in this manner. The total average cost reflects this lost earning potential.
Total Cost per Year: $5000
3) Lost Productivity, Sick Days, and Health Care Costs
Alcoholics call in sick to work more often than others, and also have significantly higher health care costs due to both major diseases, as well as being sick with more common ailments simply due to a compromised immune system.
Total Cost per Year: $5000 (This is a much more conservative estimate than is given by the U.S. Government research)
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4) Potential Life Lost Averages and Value of a Human Life
What is the monetary value of the life lost when a person dies early due to Alcoholism? Before we can answer that question with a dollar amount, we must first determine how much life the average alcoholic loses due to heavy drinking. This government website states that the average alcohol related death results in 30 full years of potential life lost. At first, this number might seem unusually high, but it takes into account a whole range of possible early deaths. Alcohol overdoses, drunk driving accidents, suicides, cirrhosis of the liver, and a number of other possibilities go into this average. By the raw numbers, it seems the toll for heavy drinkers is indeed an average of 30 years of life lost!
Knowing this, how can we determine what the value of those 30 years are?
Researchers at Princeton University have determined that the value of a human life is $1.54 million dollars. If we divide this value by the average human life expectancy of 77 years, we get a value of $20,000 per year.
Now, multiply that $20,000 per year by 30 years of life, and we get $600,000 dollars. That is over half a million dollars down the drain, based on the years of life that an alcoholic will sacrifice. Most people would estimate that the value of their life is greater than $20,000 per year, which is understandable. That makes this a fairly low estimate.
Total Cost per Year: $20,000
Photo by elle rigby
Adding it All Up
Each year, the average alcoholic is sacrificing $37,300 dollars due to their drinking. Investing that money at a modest 5 percent interest will net you your million dollars in only 16 years. I understand that most recovering alcoholics will not be able to invest this money due to other responsibilities, but the point of the exercise remains clear: the cost of addiction is staggering.
I also realize that the money value of potential years of life lost is not a tangible thing that could be invested on a year-to-year basis. However, this should be a mute point, as virtually every person declares the monetary value of one year of their life to be worth much more than a mere $20,000 dollars anyway. The years of happiness and freedom from sobriety will pay dividends far beyond a mere 5 percent return on your drinking money.
The bottom line is that substance abuse is extremely expensive when accumulated over the long term because of these costs:
1) Cost of the actual drugs and alcohol themselves.
2) Cost of the consequences, especially legal and health care costs.
3) Years of potential life lost (a near infinite value by most people’s measure).
4) Opportunity costs (quit going to school, not pursuing a better job, etc.).
Photo by a tai
Implications for the Recovering Alcoholic
1) Gratitude – Appreciate the gains you are realizing in recovery – both financially and health-wise. Take joy in your new prosperity. If you are living a sober life in recovery, any amount of money or good health you enjoy is a blessing. Take gratitude in your productivity. Be thankful that you can be of service to others.
2) Recognize the responsibility that you’ve gained by spending your money and life appropriately, instead of selfishly wasting it on chemicals. Recognize also the shift you make with your “footprint” on society when you get sober: instead of being a burden, you become a productive member of society.
3) Reward yourself in responsible ways by treating yourself to the good things in life that you truly enjoy in your recovery. Allow yourself to rationalize a few of these extravagances. You deserve it!