How Much is Your Alcoholism Really Costing You?

How Much is Your Alcoholism Really Costing You?


If there is one thing that an alcoholic or addict does in regards to rationalization, it is to minimize the true cost of their addiction.

This is easy to do because alcohol and drug abuse typically starts fairly slowly, and initially the costs are relatively low and the consequences are quite small at first. Later on they will of course snowball into a life-wrecking series of chaotic events, but in the short run it is fairly easy to minimize most of the damage.

Most people never really consider the true cost of their addiction though. They see the surface level details, things such as the financial cost of the drugs themselves. But as we will see the true costs of an addiction are much deeper than that.

The obvious financial costs of alcoholism or drug addiction

Of course the alcohol and the drugs that you put into your body cost money, and over time that money adds up to significant amounts. Just take the pack-a-day smoker who tallies up their total that they spend on cigarettes over the course of a decade. At today’s horrendous cigarette prices this can run into the tens of thousands.

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The tendency toward cross-addiction can increase the total costs that are incurred. For example, most alcoholics also turn out to be lifelong smokers as well. So now instead of just laying out cash every day for their booze, they are also “taxed” with spending money on cigarettes every day as well. When you start figuring in other drugs it gets even worse. For example, many people who drink heavily also smoke marijuana every day, and many of those people also smoke cigarettes. So here you might have someone who has a daily budget of thirty dollars or so that they spend on self medicating, simply because they are addicted to so many drugs. They have to have their booze, their marijuana, and their nicotine. Take one of them away and they are all out of sorts and under-medicated. And so of course the costs stack up as the number of drugs used increases.

There is a typical exercise that drug rehabs and treatment centers do that involves sitting down and figuring out every penny that you have spent on your addiction. They try to get you to think of every single cost involved, including legal fees, money spent on the chemicals themselves, lost jobs, medical expenses, and so on. Some people who are older and have been addicted for a long time will typically have financial costs running into the millions. Most people who have been at it for at least a decade have wasted at least six figures on their addiction. It is a very eye opening exercise to sit down and think about.

The true financial impact is not necessarily about the money that is wasted in your life, but rather it is about how this affects your everyday living. Think of the drug addict or alcoholic who is trapped in addiction for several decades, and how such a person manages their finances. Most likely they squeak by, pay what bills they can in order to remain afloat, and spend the rest of their money on drugs and alcohol. This is part of how addicts and alcoholics define being a “functional alcoholic.” They say “I get my bills paid, I am responsible,” and therefore they reward themselves with their addiction. What they do not realize is that their alcoholism and their addiction has an infinite appetite. So even though they may go to work and pay their bills, they are spending every last penny that they have on their drug of choice, thus creating an enormous amount of financial stress in their lives. They never get ahead and they are always one financial crisis away from complete disaster because they spend all of their discretionary income on their addiction.

This is a glimpse into the true financial “cost” of addiction. It is not so much about the money spent on drugs or booze (although that is significant), instead it is about the enormous stress that the addict lives with because they are constantly financially strapped. They can never get ahead because their addiction sucks up all of their extra money.

The emotional price that you pay

Your addiction has a cost that you pay in terms of emotions. First of all, your addiction robs you of the ability to truly feel. In fact, this is what most addicts and alcoholics are really doing when they self medicate–they are avoiding having to feel their emotions. Over the years they become a bit more numb and it is an inconvenience to have to deal with any sort of emotional upset if they cannot self medicate it away entirely with their drug of choice. Addiction becomes their preferred method of dealing with everything, with life in general, with any sort of emotional event.

So what you get in the long run when you continue to self medicate every day is that you sacrifice your ability to feel. It is an inconvenience for the addict or alcoholic. They would rather be numb than to feel their feelings or their emotions. Better to self medicate them away, so as not to have to face reality. This is the emotional cost of an addiction–you are giving up the ability to really feel anything at all.

Social disruption and the true price of a lost relationship

Addiction definitely has a cost in terms of your social life. What happens to most addicts and alcoholics is that they slowly drift away from their healthy friends and they start to spend more and more time with others who use drugs and alcohol like they do. These new people may not be “bad people” necessarily, but it is still unfortunate that they are leaving their old friends who were not addicted in order to spend time with others who are addicted.

This is typically rationalized by the addict or alcoholic quite easily, because there is some good even in the worst of us. Drug addicts and alcoholics are not bad people, so it is easy to make excuses about this social shifting and argue that your “new friends” who are really just drinking buddies or fellow drug addicts are really great. In fact they are probably not bad people but on the other hand the only thing you really have in common with them is that you both use the same drugs.

So the cost of this is that you sacrifice your real relationships, your true friendships and your family relationships in order to pursue your addiction. In the short term such a trade off would not be such a big deal if it were temporary. That is, if you were able to quickly realize your mistake and then get off the drugs or booze right away and go back to your true friends and repair those relationships.

Unfortunately this is pretty much never the case. Addiction takes years or even decades to fully unfold and progress and so most addicts suffer a huge social cost due to their addiction. They drift further and further away from the people who truly matter to them, and spend more and more time with those who use the same drugs instead.

In the end there is another move towards complete isolation. The addict or alcoholic will find that even other drug addicts or alcoholics are not good company for them, because they find that they get into trouble when they drink to excess. This forces them to tend more and more towards complete isolation, because that is the only way that they can truly drink or use drugs how they want. Other people just get in the way or inconvenience their addiction. Hard core alcoholics cannot trust themselves around others because they black out and do all sorts of crazy things, pick fights, destroy property, and so on. So they ultimately tend toward extreme isolation after their addiction has progressed to a certain point.

It is easy for the addict or the alcoholic to make excuses or try to rationalize their addiction when it comes to relationships. First of all they will point out that the people that they drink or use drugs with are nice folks that they genuinely like. This may be true but they are missing the bigger picture, that their other relationships are suffering because of their drug of choice. Second of all the addict might argue that their true friends should stick by them even in spite of their drug or alcohol use. This is immature reasoning though and they need to take responsibility and work on their recovery in order to be a better friend. Third of all the addict may argue that they do not care about the relationships so much and that “they have to use their drug of choice in order to be happy.” In other words they are saying that they have to choose the drugs rather than keeping their friends and family happy. Again this is just their addiction keeping them trapped because they cannot see that their drug of choice is making them miserable, and that if they could find the path of recovery they would be happy and free again. Instead the addict genuinely believes that they only way that they can ever be happy in life is if they are self medicating.

Mentally stunted

If you self medicate with drugs or alcohol then what you are doing is telling your brain at the time: “Stop developing and making new mental developments for now, we are going to be using drugs or alcohol and getting wasted every day instead, so do not bother developing any further.”

If you happen to be young at the time, a child or in your teens, then this will have a profound impact on your mental development because you will completely stunt all future growth of your mental faculties until you get clean and sober again. Quite a handicap for someone who is still growing and developing.

But even an adult who chooses to self medicate every day is making a mental sacrifice. They are trading something for their addiction, for the ability to self medicate every day. Instead of learning new things in life and exploring new things and growing as a person, they are choosing to sort of shut off their brain instead by self medicating with drugs or alcohol.

For example, after I got clean and sober I went through a long process of learning and mental growth that started with going back to school. I could not have done this (nor would I have wanted to even attempt it) while I was still using drugs and alcohol. This was mental growth that had to happen in my sobriety, it could not have occurred during my addiction. It started with my sponsor in recovery and the suggestion that I go back to college and finish up that degree that I never got. So I looked into the idea and I decided to pursue it.

I enrolled in a school and started taking classes. I had to explore a few different topics to figure out what I was truly interested in. In fact I had been doing this my entire life and I could never really figure out “what I wanted to be when I grew up.” What happened is that I explored some stuff that I was good at–computers for one. I took a few programming classes and I was quite fast at writing code and my teacher thought that he could even get me a job possibly.

But I also had to take a marketing course because I was attending a business college and the teacher pulled me aside and said to me “you are a born marketer. What is your major? You need to go into marketing.” This had a profound impact on me and I realized that this teacher was probably right. So I shifted my major and I pursued a marketing degree.

Later on in my recovery I used this degree and this knowledge–not to get a marketing job–but to create my own business, which I then was able to successfully do. I cannot imagine that any of this mental development would have happened during active addiction. The problem with addiction is that I did not care to learn, I would not have been excited about learning marketing, or exploring computer programming in college, or any of that stuff. It all gets pushed to the side in order to focus on your drug of choice.

I had a lot to learn along my journey and none of it could have happened during active addiction. I had to be clean and sober in order to learn the skills that would later define my life and my success. Thus, my addiction had a real cost in terms of robbing me of ambition, but also of robbing me of the mental capacity to learn.

Spiritual bankruptcy

This is the main cost that is focused on in traditional recovery (AA and NA). Anyone who is self medicating every day is spiritually bankrupt, even if they try to convince themselves otherwise.

Every addict and alcoholic who sobers up can look back and realize that they were kidding themselves when it comes to this. Many believe that they are on some sort of spiritual quest in their addiction. Or that by using various drugs they are attempting to “find God” in their addiction. Every addict who believes this can later sober and realize that they were just fooling themselves, that they are much more spiritually grounded now that they are sober.

Addicts and alcoholics sometimes try to argue that they are on a spiritual journey, that they are seeking something by self medicating every day, but in reality they are just fooling themselves. Whatever truth they are seeking in their lives is only masked and clouded by their addiction. They try to argue that they need to get high in order to access some new information or some higher realm, but in fact they are just numbing themselves and are spiritually bankrupt. It is usually after they sober up that they can look back and fully realize this fact.

The biggest hidden cost: opportunity cost of addiction

The biggest cost of addiction that most people never fully realize is the opportunity cost.

There are many such costs with addiction.

The opportunity cost of something is the cost that you are giving up in order to engage in that activity. So if are getting drunk on Saturday afternoon, you may not be able to go watch your daughter perform in her gymnastics meet. Or if you are spending 20 dollars per day on your addiction, then you give up the alternate uses of that money (over a decade this would be over $70,000).

So addiction and alcoholism is full of these “hidden” costs. They are hidden because you will not see many of these costs until you get clean and sober. A great example of this is the business that I built after getting a marketing degree. I never would have known that I was missing out on such an opportunity if I had continued to drink and use drugs. I never would have known what I was missing out on.

The same is true with exercise. I never knew in my addiction that I was missing out on such a vital part of life. I just kept drinking and using drugs and never knew that I was missing out on the gift of health, on the awesome feeling of being in shape and of being healthy.

This is true with spirituality, relationships, education, and so on. We do not realize what we are missing out on in life because we are stuck in addiction, mindlessly self medicating every day, and believing that the only way that we can be happy is to keep self medicating.

This is what people are trying to convince you of when they urge you to get clean and sober. It is difficult to describe just how awesome your life can be in recovery, because all of those opportunity costs are overwhelming when you look back at them in recovery. You forgo so many blessings in life when you choose to pursue addiction every day.

Recovery opens up a whole new world to you.

The price of recovery

There is more than one way to get clean and sober. Some people do it by simply attending AA or NA meetings. Others need to go to detox and so they must seek medical help first. And still others may find themselves in jail or prison, and have no real choice in the matter.

Getting clean and sober is a process, and that process has a cost to most people. Whether it is time invested in therapy or treatment, or money spent on a rehab facility, everyone can frame their recovery process in terms of an investment. You have to put something in to recovery in order to get the benefits out of it.

My belief is that no price is too high for recovery, and no amount of time or monetary investment is too much if you can achieve lasting sobriety as a result. The cost of continuing on in active addiction is too high to even consider. The difference between the two lives is like night and day. Addiction is chaos and misery. Recovery is full of blessings and joy.

Those in active addiction would pay nearly any price to be clean and sober if they understood the real benefits involved. Those who are happy in recovery already know what sobriety is worth, and would gladly pay any price to achieve it. But of course they already paid the price, which was to surrender completely and let go of their old way of life.


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