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The Hidden Costs of Addiction

The cost of addiction spreads far beyond the price of the substance, financially and emotionally impacting the individual, his or her friends and family members, and employers. Addiction often leads to legal problems for the user. Substance abuse can also cause chronic health conditions or even death.

Family Dynamics

It is a trying time when a family member is struggling with substance abuse. Financial stress, feelings of betrayal, and emotional and physical abuse are common in households where addiction exists. These issues often lead to marital problems, divorce, and even the loss of child custody.

It is estimated that over eight million children under 18 live with an adult who suffers from addiction. When an addicted parent is struggling, children will sometimes take on the role of a substitute parent to help take care of younger siblings and maintain household chores. The disruption in familial roles, routines, communication, and social life significantly increases the likelihood that a child will struggle with emotional or behavioral problems, substance abuse, or a combination of issues.

It is important for family members to recognize their own mental health and set personal boundaries to avoid endangering themselves. Coming to terms with a relative's addiction can induce others to form their own unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance, likely because it is readily available, is legal, and it is often portrayed by the media as an acceptable response to hardship. People who abuse alcohol often display poor judgement and impaired motor skills. The resulting accidents and injuries often mean lost wages and medical bills - adding additional financial stress to families.

Physical Health

Long term substance abuse can cause chronic health problems. Alcoholism has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and even memory problems. Intravenous drug users (injection via needle) are vulnerable to bloodborne diseases that can target their immune system, or in extreme cases target their heart. Surgery costs, hospital stays, pharmaceutical prices, and subsequent doctor's visits could mean astronomical medical bills that may not be covered by insurance. If a person is impaired by drugs or alcohol and becomes injured on the job, worker's compensation claims will likely be denied.

Legal Matters

Medical professionals who report to work while impaired are more likely to provide negligent medical care, increasing their risk of getting sued for medical malpractice.

Possession of illegal substances can also result in arrest and incarceration. The fines and legal fees are a burden to family members, often forcing them into debt. Additionally, assets are sometimes frozen by law enforcement pending investigation.

Driving under the influence, particularly with alcohol, is dangerous in and of itself. Should a car accident occur, the person's driver's license could be suspended or revoked. This places further strain on finances if the person need to travel to work.

People who were convicted of drug crimes may face a multitude of barriers in the pursuit of jobs, education, and housing. Many residential rental applications require jail time to be reported, and businesses often require convictions to be listed on employment applications. College students receiving financial aid are often ordered to refund the full amount that was issued to them for that school year when they are convicted of drug crimes. And some scholarships have restrictions based on a student's criminal history. While colleges aren't required to ask incoming students about their criminal history, students can't avoid answering these questions if they are asked.

There is a full sphere of meaning behind the saying "There is a cost to addiction." Heavy-handed barriers and punishments can make it hard for someone to avoid relapse. Friends and family members who have a loved one struggling with addiction can help with recovery by offering support and encouragement to overcome this difficult challenge.