Drug addiction and alcoholism are addictions that most people are familiar with, but there are many addictions families suffer from. The fact is that any addiction from drugs and cigarettes to shopping and gambling can have disastrous social and financial consequences. When the addict has a family, the cost of the addiction can wreck the home and have long-lasting effects on every person he or she touches.
Addictions are largely defined by their fruitless struggle to overcome diminishing returns. A diminishing return is when a large quantity of something is not proportionately satisfying as a small quantity. For example, eating a single piece of cake is satisfying; eating ten slices of cake is not ten times as satisfying. Each subsequent slice will be less satisfying than the last.
When a person is addicted, they often recognize that their addiction is unsatisfying, but continue consuming in hopes that they can obtain the pleasure or satisfaction that they associate with the activity. The addictive substance may be accompanied by withdrawal symptoms that create demand for the activity even when it’s inherently unpleasant; this chains addicts to their behavior and makes it difficult to stop even when they no longer enjoy it.
Addictions and Poverty
There’s a reason why addictions are often associated with poverty. Many addictive behaviors begin as a method of escapism and pleasure seeking, and people who suffer financially are often drawn to them as a means to avoid serious problems. Addictions provide instant gratification, which is something sorely lacking in most low-income households that struggle to survive from one paycheck to the next.
The relationship between addiction and poverty travels both ways, however, and addictions can often lead to financial ruin or make maintaining healthy finances impossible. Simply put, addictions are expensive to maintain, and their cost increases the longer a person has them. Addictions never level out; as it becomes harder for a person to reach the same level of satisfaction, they will need to engage in addictive behaviors more and more often, resulting in higher expenses.
Of course, secondary factors come into play as well. Serious addictions interrupt every facet of a person’s life. It can lead to marital troubles and divorce, loss of jobs and criminal charges if the addictive substance is illegal. Drug and Alcohol detox services are expensive, and people often find themselves ill equipped to deal with life after quitting, which leads them back to their addictive behaviors. As the addict becomes embroiled in deeper poverty and despair, they often turn to the addiction for comfort, causing a vicious self-fulfilling cycle.
The Cost of Addiction
Addiction costs are insidious, often creeping into a person’s finances without notice. People who may have a difficult time paying off debt or making regular rent payments somehow always find money to pay for addictions; this is usually because they are willing to make sacrifices to feed the addiction. This makes people less likely to realize how damaging the financial impact of an addiction is until it’s too late.
Because addictions are cumulative, they will cost more to maintain the longer a person has them. For example, consider smoking. A single pack of cigarettes costs around $6, although it may be more or less expensive in some areas depending on state taxes. A person with a light nicotine addiction may smoke a pack a week. As their tolerance rises, this may double, and then triple, until they become pack-a-day smokers.
At that rate, an addiction that once cost less than $25 a month to maintain can easily become a $180 per month addiction, and it’s not uncommon for many chain smokers to go through more than one pack a day. A pack-a-day smoking habit translates to around $2,160, or about 10% of a person’s income at the poverty level. Considering nearly 30% of smokers are below the poverty level, this has a huge impact on people’s lives.
Other addictions are much more expensive, and people are often addicted to multiple things. Estimates suggest that hardcore drug addictions can cost easily half of a person’s income at poverty level, and the true cost might be even higher.
Other Costs of Addiction
The cost of purchasing an addictive substance or engaging in addictive behaviors like shopping or gambling isn’t the only price that addicts and their families pay. Other costs are deep reaching and often surprising:
- Missed or lost work or inability to find a job due to the addiction
- Increased car, health, life and other insurance premium costs
- Loss of income due to not graduating high school, college or obtaining an advanced degree
- Medical costs; many addictions cause health problems that can add up to massive costs throughout a person’s lifetime
- Opportunity costs of life experiences or education lost while spending time searching for and using drugs or other addictive substances
- Legal bills; DUIs and other legal problems can often result from addictions, and the subsequent legal costs can be staggering
The financial side effects of poverty itself begin to snowball the longer a person lives hand-to-mouth. Bad credit, missed payments, toxic debts and late fees can all put further strains on finances. When people neglect household expenses to cover the cost of addictions, these strains can reach a breaking point.
Impact of Addiction on Families
There is a strong correlation between addiction, poverty and abuse. Children from low-income families are 25% more likely to be abused than those from middle-income households, and children of alcoholics are four times as likely to be abused as other kids. Moreover, 80% of child abuse and neglect cases are associated with some form of substance abuse.
The problem multiplies over generations. As many as 20% of abusers grew up in abusive households themselves, and it’s much harder for children in low-income households to break free of this lifestyle. They may adopt their parent’s addiction, pursue a different addiction or simply be ill equipped to deal with financial realities due to growing up without money to budget or any clear guidance on how to handle finances.
Stopping the Cycle
It’s easy to brush off addiction as something that other people suffer from. It’s harder to see our own addictions. The truth is that addictions are rarely as clear-cut and obviously evil as after-school specials and drug prevention programs would have us believe. For people in the midst of an addiction, it simply feels like a lifestyle, and it’s always easy to justify behaviors.
Drugs and alcohol aren’t the only addictions that can ruin a person’s life and finances. Video games, pornography, the Internet and even fast food can all become addictive if a person allows them to overrun their life. Once any single activity begins demanding a person’s money and attention at the cost of their health, relationships or lifestyle, that activity could be classified an addiction. Even if your reliance on World of Warcraft won’t put you in prison, it can still negatively impact your life by draining your finances and eating away valuable time you could spend on other things.
Once you can honestly recognize that an activity, habit or substance has more control over you than it should, it’s time to get help, even if the substance seems innocuous. As tempting as it is to seek instant gratification, the only way to deal with poverty and gain financial freedom is to strip away every possible extraneous expense from your budget and focus purely on your future. This is impossible if you’re putting every extra penny that you have toward an addiction instead.
People must ultimately make a choice between the instant gratification of an addiction or the long-lasting, healthy rewards of good financial habits and planning for the future. By recognizing and honestly assessing their habits, making a concentrated effort to stop, building a support group and seeking professional help when necessary, addicts can begin to regain control of their lives. Over time, this will enable them to take the first step toward financial freedom.
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