In 2018, 53.2 million people (1 in 5 people) in the United States aged 12 and older used illicit drugs.1 According to another study, more than 23 million adults in the U.S. have struggled with problematic drug abuse.2 Currently, the nation is suffering from an opioid epidemic that has claimed the lives of thousands. Not only are individuals affected, but so are their families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Because of these statistics, we can’t help but wonder how does drug abuse affect society?
Effects of Drug Abuse on Society
At any given time, 10 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from a substance use disorder.2 Considering how widespread this issue is, it makes you wonder how substance abuse affects society as a whole. The loved ones of individuals with drug or alcohol addictions make up our communities. Their parents, siblings, friends, and co-workers are people we may come across at any given moment and are more interconnected than we think. The impact of drug and alcohol abuse on the community can’t be narrowed down to one thing but, instead, has to be broken down into several categories. Below are some common ways drugs affect our society.
Effects of Drug Abuse on Family
Those closest to drug-addicted people are the ones who are most impacted. This includes parents, siblings, cousins, spouses, and children. Reemerging themes in families where one individual is addicted to drugs or alcohol include high levels of criticism and negativity, parental inconsistency, or lack of parental guidance, and even denial. Misdirected anger is also a common side effect of drug abuse on families, in which non-addicted family members may lash out in an attempt to cope with the situation.
Another common theme in families affected by addiction is co-dependent relationships. The term codependency is used to describe relationships where a person is needy or dependent on someone else. Another way to describe co-dependent relationships is when one partner needs the other partner, who in turn also needs to be needed. Codependence can occur in any kind of relationship. Oftentimes, these kinds of relationships in which addiction is involved only serve to enable the person’s habit of using drugs or alcohol.
Moreover, children of drug addicts often take up the responsibility of their parents, often functioning in denial of their parents’ problems with drugs or alcohol. Children in these situations often lack necessities, like shelter and health care. When calculating the national average, one survey found that a parent struggled with drug or alcohol abuse for 38.9% of the children who were removed from their homes and placed in out-of-home care.3 Other possible effects of parental drug abuse on children include increased risk of mental and behavioral disorders, abuse, neglect, and increased risk of developing a substance use disorder when they’re older.
Consequences of Drug Abuse in the Workplace
Drug abuse can also affect our employers and co-workers. One study found that an estimated 15 percent of the U.S. workforce, or 19.2 million workers, drank at the workplace or went to work while under the influence of alcohol.4 Although this doesn’t reflect the daily rate of alcohol use at the workplace, it does suggest a problematic acceptance of drinking at work, despite the risks. In fact, one study found that losses in revenue from decreased productivity due to substance abuse totaled out to $510.8 billion in a year.5
Also, co-workers of people addicted to drugs or alcohol must take on additional responsibilities to accommodate for the decrease in productivity. They may also work longer hours to “cover-up” for these individuals who may show up late or miss work completely. Additionally, people who engage in substance abuse, especially at work, are more likely to suffer from work-related injuries, which may cause an increase in insurance premiums passed on to employers and co-workers. Decreased productivity affects employers and their companies directly, and if drug use spreads to other co-workers as well, it can be disastrous.
Financial Effects of Drug Abuse
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the estimated cost of drug abuse in the United States is more than $740 billion a year. These costs include illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.6 Some estimated costs of each substance include:
- Alcohol: The estimated cost of alcohol abuse in the U.S. reached $249 billion in 2010 or about $2.05 per drink. Most of these costs resulted from decreased workplace productivity (72%), alcohol addiction treatment and health care expenses (11%), law enforcement and other related expenses (10%), and losses from car crashes (5%).7
- Illegal Drug Abuse: The estimated cost of illicit drug abuse is $193 billion, including $11 billion in health care costs.7
- Prescription Opioids: The estimated cost of prescription opioid abuse is $78.5 billion, with $26 billion due to direct health care and addiction treatment costs.6
How drug abuse affects society also goes beyond financial costs and includes other costs like crime, unemployment, domestic abuse, divorce, homelessness, foster care, overdose-related deaths, birth defects in children, and the spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. As a Massachusetts treatment center, we understand the many drug effects on society and offer treatment options for people who are suffering from substance use disorders. If you’re battling a drug or alcohol addiction, our inpatient drug treatment can help you regain your sobriety and rebuild your relationships.
Connection Between Drugs and Crime
According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 67,079 inmates (46.1%) were incarcerated for drug offenses or drug-related crimes in 2021.8 Total U.S. government expenses on public prisons and jails is $80.7 billion, and $3.9 billion for private prisons and jails.9 Drug abuse and crime are also connected, as drug abuse increases the rates of violent crime. Alcohol plays a significant role in nearly every 4 of 10 crimes committed annually.10 Drug-related criminal activity, such as drug trafficking, can also significantly impact society.
If you’re still wondering, “How do drugs impact society?” we can narrow it down to:
- Increased child abuse and neglect
- Increased child custody losses
- Increased risk of homelessness and poverty
- Increased domestic disputes
- Increased health care costs
- Increased rates of co-occurring disorders
- Increased drug-related incarcerations and crimes
- Increased insurance premiums and taxes
- Decreased work productivity
- Increased strain on co-workers and employers
- Increased rate of violent crimes on college campuses
- Losses of revenue for businesses and schools
The effects of drugs on society are heartbreaking. No one is immune to addiction, and nearly every person who’s close to someone with an addiction is impacted. If you have a drug or drinking problem, don’t wait any longer to get help. Clearbrook Treatment Centers offers various forms of drug and alcohol treatment in Massachusetts. If you’re interested in our addiction services for yourself or a loved one, call us today at 570-536-9621.
- SAMHSA – Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health
- NIH – 10 percent of U.S. adults have drug use disorder at some point in their lives
- SAMHSA – Child Welfare and Alcohol and Drug Use Statistics
- University of Buffalo – 15 Percent Work Under Influence of Alcohol
- SAMHSA – Substance Abuse Prevention Dollars and Cents: A Cost-Benefit Analysis
- NIH – Costs of Substance Abuse
- CDC – Excessive Drinking is Draining the U.S. Economy
- Federal Bureau of Prisons – Offenses
- Prison Policy Initiative – Economics of Incarceration
- Bureau of Justice Statistics – Alcohol and Crime
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