The Cost of Addiction to U.K. Society

A look at the cycle of addiction, poverty, and costs that they incur to the United Kingdom. Plus, sobering facts and commentary.

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The Individual Cost of Addiction

When we consider the consequences of addiction, foremost in our minds is the terrible emotional, spiritual, mental and physical costs that impact the addict. These costs tend to ripple out, however, touching the lives of their loved ones. In fact, addiction can impact anyone who comes into contact with the addict.

In addition to these costs, there is the very real financial cost of addiction. Consider the poverty that addicts and their families live in, as all desires and needs are sublimated to the demands of the substance addiction. This is often extreme poverty, meaning that addicts lack money for food, clothes, and shelter; even the most basic of needs are no longer met as the addict pursues – or rather, is dragged forward – by their addiction.

As the ‘disease of addiction’ progresses, addicts/alcoholics become more and more unmanageable. They lose the ability to function as valuable employees. They become unmanageable and unreliable. They miss out on the career progression that they would enjoy if they were not in the grip of addiction.

The Personal is Political

Feminist thought has done much to relocate understanding of eating disorders/addiction by locating the issue as a political one rather than as a psychological defect of an individual’s troubled mind. Politicising the issue thus allows us to consider the pressures that capitalist/patriarchal society places on us all, and the coping mechanisms we all employ to cope with the demands of the society we live in.

We can consider:

  • Which needs and wants we are able to meet
  • Which needs and wants must be sublimated
  • Our gender socialisation
  • Our socio-economic positioning
  • Our race
  • Our sexuality

….and how we are valued in relation to this positioning. We also can consider the impact that our social positioning has on our thoughts and feelings.

Addiction and the Cycle of Poverty

Poverty and addiction are intersecting issues in numerous ways. In chicken and egg fashion, there is a correlation between lower educational standards, poverty, urban areas, and addiction. Addiction has a disproportionately high cost for those from low-income households, where budgets do not allow loss of income on non-essential items. If a family on benefits buys alcohol, there will be less money for food and bills.

Further, drug addiction is rare but concentrated. For example the NHS reports some startling stats about drug use demographics:

  • The level of heroin and crack use in urban Middlesbrough is six times that of rural Wiltshire. 306,000 heroin and crack users in England
  • 1,200,000 affected by drug addiction in their families – mostly in poor communities

Certainly, the consequences of having addicted parents can be hard to bear for children. The children of addicts can grow up with behaviours and attitudes that are adapted to a life of addiction, to chaos, and often, violence. They may emulate their parents, as all children do. Without great strength of character, change, and perhaps some element of grace, the cycle of poverty will continue.

However, the media portrayal of those in receipt of government benefits as having expendable income is entirely misleading and a cruel demonization of the poor. The press are notorious for this assumed moral superiority over various sections of the community, aligning itself with the dominant social group (rich, white men again I’m afraid). Historically the press has dehumanised black people, the Irish, women; more recently it has turned its freezing gaze on immigrants and single mothers.

An Equal Opportunities Illness

Whilst there may be a worse and more immediate impact on poor addicts, addiction is an equal opportunities disorder and no section of society is invulnerable.

Often, addiction is conceptualised as a selfish illness, but its nature is that self-care and regard for self are quickly abandoned as pursuit of the drug of choice takes over. Often, addicts put themselves in progressively more dangerous situations until ultimately their addiction results in jails, institutions and death.

Addiction may even begin as an attempt to meet normative standards of mental, and emotional balance as people try to be more effective and capable members of society. Substance use is sometimes a decadent pleasure but often it is an act of self-medicating, employed to counteract a sense of powerlessness, which is then tragically exacerbated by the addiction itself.

Funding Addiction Treatment is Cost Effective

The financial burden that addiction places on the addict, their family, and society at large is substantial. It may seem distasteful and cold to consider the financial cost of addiction to society in the face of such suffering but in today’s political climate, it is far from a given that there will be finding available for health care and drug treatment programs for the many addicts who are unable to afford it privately.

Is it cost-effective for society to, say, wash their hands of the responsibility and leave addicts to lie in the bed that they have made for themselves? In the absence of effective available treatment options, the burden on the other services grows. This includes the costs for drug related law enforcement and of holding addicts in prison for drug related crime, both of which outweigh the cost of offering addicts treatment.

‘The annual cost of addiction related crime is Drug addiction and crime £13,900,000,000. A typical heroin user spends around £1,400 per month on drugs: 21/2 times the average mortgage Many commit crime to pay for their drugs. Heroin, cocaine or crack users commit up to half of all acquisitive crimes – shoplifting, burglary, robbery, car crime, fraud, drug dealing.’ – NHS Why Ivest?

Despite having our nationalized health system at present – though it seems precariously teetering over an abyss at present – the UK addict/alcoholic does not fare well. An estimated 15% of the population suffer from alcohol dependence, only 1% of patients receive treatment. The consequences of the lack of appropriate interventions for addicts are far reaching, we know that the impact is not just suffered by the individual, instead it ripples out to family, and community, eventually the financial cost to society of alcohol-related harm is around £21 billion per year.

Disregarding these facts seems counterintuitive and lacking in foresight, in the U.K and what’s more, research has shown that for every £1 invested in the treatment of alcohol addiction £5 is saved on health, welfare and crime costs.

About the author
Jason Shiers, Dip Psych, MBACP is a Transactional Analysis Psychodynamic Psychotherapist, and Head of Digital for and Jason has been helping people with all types of addictions for 23 years. He practices holistically calling on various modalities including, psychotherapy, 12 steps, mindfulness, energy and meditation to help people empower themselves to make positive change in their lives.
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