Addiction’s Losses: Missed Opportunities

Opportunity cost is a common economic principle that is having a very real impact in the latest drug abuse epidemic.

Most simply put, opportunity cost refers to when a person or company performs an action, they forego an alternate action and lose the benefits associated with it. The unraveling life of a drug addict underscores the relevance of this economic principle.

“As an addict, your entire life is overshadowed by addiction," said Andrew N. Pucher, president and chief executive Officer of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. "It's a great loss to the individual and society because you have someone not able to participate in their life.”

We decided to measure how much addiction really costs, taking into account both tangible and intangible losses, and to present the numbers in a balance sheet. The numbers are not based on any specific individual but rather a general arc that a person travels once he or she is hooked.


Drugs and jobs often don’t mix well. One in six unemployed people use substances, according to BLANK statistics. Whether one starts using drugs because of unemployment or the the other way around is unclear. What we know is that drug addiction decreases productivity, leads to people calling in sick and increases the likelihood of being injured at work.

“I realize that I destroyed my life because I wasn't able to get a job, I wasn't able to achieve anything.” Patrick Hilsman, journalist and former heroin user

Annual Median Income $53,000 Support yourself
Income benefits No Health coverage Health insurance
Professional growth Job Career advancement
Productivity Contribution to society Creation of a product, an idea

Financial Impact

Being a drug addict is expensive. The first cost a substance abuser faces is the actual cost of the drug he is using. A gram of heroin costs between $15 to $20 and heavy consumers can spend up to $200 a day. A gram of cocaine ranges between $60 to $100. If you're caught using illegal drugs you can be heavily fined. Add legal fees to the cost if you want a lawyer to represent you.

“I had money, I worked 8 years for an insurance company, I got severance, collected unemployment. I would set guidelines but would keep crossing those guidelines until my bank account became zero.” Jessica Dunn, Alumni Manager at Mountainside Treatment Center

Personal Income Heroin purchases $25,000 to $50,000 per year Education degree
Personal income Fines for trafficking Up to 10 million dollars With this amount of money you can support two generations
Personal income Fines for possession $100 to $100,000 Down payment for a house
Personal income $250 – 550 hourly rate Legal fees A heart-to heart with a therapist ranges from $75 to $150.


Substance addiction takes a toll on the body. Cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, lung disease are all possible consequences of drug abuse. One of the most visible aspects of drug addiction is the deterioration of teeth gums. Substances like heroin, cocaine and meth alter the normal bacterial mouth balance in the mouth, triggering deterioration of tissues and teeth loss. Basic and partial mouth rehabilitation cost $5,000 a complete treatment would instead cost $50,000. Inpatient rehab treatment cost ranges between $10,000 to $80,000 dollar a month.

Teeth Dental care $5,000 to $50,000 Average College degree $32,300 private 9,000 public
Blood HIV treatment $14,000 to 20,000 (annual cost without insurance) Gym membership at the YMCA for life ( 40 years= $46, 560)
Heart Heart attack treatment $50,000 average cost Marathon
General health Rehab cost $10,000 to $80,000 per month Active life


One of the most dramatic consequences of addiction is incarceration. For drug offenses, prison sentences increased from an average of 6 years to 7.3 years between 1988 and 2006. The proportion of drug offenders sentenced to prison increased from 79 percent to 93 percent between 1988 and 2006, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Criminal record Permanent stigma Increase chances of finding a job
Years as free person Ave. months in jail for drug related incarceration in the US 87.2 months (7 years) A master degree program lasts 10 to 16 months


Drug addiction takes away years of your life. Most of drug user spend years consuming drugs, especially at young age when they could be more productive and establish their career and life. In the best case scenario a drug addict will start recovery but the rehab process can last from one to 18 months. Addiction can last a limited number of years or your entire life.

“I realize that I destroyed my life because I wasn't able to get a job, I wasn't able to achieve anything” Patrick Hilsman, journalist and former heroin user

Time Average time to recover in rehab 1 to 18 months Master degree can last 10 to 16 months


Addiction is a straight path to loss of trust. Drug abuse can lead to erratic behavior. Addicts don’t show up on time for work. They start asking for money. They lie. A loss of trust can lead to divorce and other broken relationships inside and outside the family. Addicts risk becoming isolated.

“A mother or father who has an addiction problem may lose touch with their family, may never regain the family, their children may grow up without one parent.” Andrew N. Pucher

Friendship Isolation Safety network
Romantic Relationships Isolation Support
Family Damages to siblings Healthy offspring