Addiction Impacts Lives of Millions and Costs Billions

Addiction Impacts Lives of Millions and Costs Billions

Addiction Must Be Added to Our 2012 Political Agenda

Addiction is so deeply shrouded in secrecy, discrimination and shame in America [and I cite America for the sake of the statistics used, however similar realities exist around the world] that the lives of over one-half the population are affected and the economic costs exceed one-half trillion dollars. It was for this reason that I created this graphic to try drive home the point that we must add addiction to our nation’s 2012 political agenda.

Addiction Carries Huge Stigma and Shame Which Keeps Recovery and Help for Families Taboo Topics

In 2004, Faces and Voices of Recovery commissioned a survey, which was conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates and Robert M. Teeter’s Coldwater Corporation. Below are some of the major findings from this poll shared in the Research [survey] Report and accompanying PowerPoint Presentation:

  • a majority of American have been affected by addiction to alcohol or other drugs, including a 63% majority who say that addiction has had a great deal or some impact on their life (p. 1 of research report); [“affected by” includes addiction of friend, family member, self or other experiences (slide 2 of PrwPT Presentation)]
  • 43% of Americans would be less likely to vote for a candidate for governor of their state who is in recovery [emphasis added] (p. 2 of research report)
  • 62% of Americans believe there is strong evidence of stigma and discrimination against people addicted to alcohol or other drugs, with an additional 23% believing there is weak stigma against these Americans (slide 4 of PrwPT Presentation)
  • 45% of Americans believe there is strong evidence of stigma and discrimination against people in recovery, with an additional 30% believing there is weak stigma (slide 4 of PrwPT Presentation)
  • 42% see the denial of jobs or promotions to people in recovery as a major problem (slide 5 of PrwPT Presentation)
  • 47% see the denial of medical, life and other insurances to people in recovery as a major problem (slide 5 of PrwPT Presentation)

Addiction Affects More Than Just the Addict/Alcoholic and Carries Huge Economic Costs

It is well referenced that 23 million Americans struggle with addiction. But there are millions more who struggle with the disease — not personally, but rather as a result of being on the receiving end of someone else’s addiction behaviors, such as: drunken arguments; physical fights; verbal, physical or emotional abuse of others – especially a spouse, child, boy/girlfriend; driving while impaired; domestic violence; problems at work or in school related to drinking or recovering from heavy drinking bouts; criminal activity or engaging in risky sexual behaviors.

I estimate that number to be 145 million American adults and children. Adding to this figure the number of estimated addicts/alcoholics, the total reaches 168 million — over one-half the American population whose lives have been affected by addiction. Where did I get this figure? I extrapolated it as follows:

  • U.S. Census Bureau 2011 Population estimates for total numbers of adults (237 M) and numbers of children (75 M)
  • Faces and Voices of Recovery 2004 Commissioned Survey for percentage of adults (63%) whose lives have been impacted (this figure includes those with addiction , thus to calculate the numbers of adults affected by someone’s addiction, I deducted 23 million from the extrapolated figure)
  • National Association of Children of Alcoholics for the figure on numbers of children (25%) affected by a parent’s drug or alcohol abuse (so it is skewed somewhat in that it’s not strictly counting addiction – rather addiction and abuse)

As I stated, the figure of 168 million Americans whose lives are affected by addiction (either personally or as a result of a friend or family members’ addiction or other experiences) is extrapolated. It’s an estimate.

As for the economic costs, those are more straightforward, although these do include substance abuse and addiction. They are reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Alcoholism (NIDA) (revised March 2011):

Estimates of the total overall costs of substance abuse in the United States, including productivity and health- and crime-related costs, exceed $600 billion annually. This includes approximately $181 billion for illicit drugs,1 $193 billion for tobacco,2 and $235 billion for alcohol.3 As staggering as these numbers are, they do not fully describe the breadth of destructive public health and safety implications of drug abuse and addiction, such as family disintegration, loss of employment, failure in school, domestic violence, and child abuse. [NIDA]

Why do I thinks it’s okay to be mixing both substance abuse and addiction in some of these figures? Because addiction is a developmental disease. It starts with substance abuse, which is what chemically and structurally changes the brain. These brain changes in turn make a person more susceptible to his/her risk factors for developing the disease. And, frankly, I didn’t know how to separate substance abuse from addiction costs, nor the numbers of children’s whose lives are affected by substance abuse vs addiction. In my view, however, they all lead to the same place — a life affected, a cost incurred because of the stigma, discrimination and shame that surrounds all-things addiction.

Get Involved – Contact Your Elected Official

Wherever this disease touches you — as the addict/alcoholic in recovery, the person struggling with substance abuse or addiction, or the family member trying to cope or help a loved one find treatment — please add your voice. We must end the secrecy, discrimination and shame that is obstructing addiction treatment, recovery and prevention efforts.

And what better month to start than September – National Recovery Month.

Faces and Voices of Recovery is a leader in these efforts. Check out their CAMPAIGNS and their ONLINE ADVOCACY CENTER. Then do what you can to encourage your elected officials to tackle the issue of addiction. Here’s the link for the contact information you will need (for state, national and government agency officials). You can also make your voice heard by voting November 6. Click here to register.

Working together, we can add addiction to the 2012 political agenda. Working together, we can save millions of lives; we can improve millions of lives; we can even save billions of dollars.

Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author | Speaker | Consultant | Founder at
Lisa is the author of hundreds of articles and 11 books, including "If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!," "Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn't," and "Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions." She is a national keynote speaker with over 25 years speaking experience, consultant, and founder of She has spent more than 14 years studying 21st century brain research in order to write, speak, and consult on substance use disorders prevention, intervention and treatment; mental disorders; addiction (aka substance use disorders) as a brain disease; adolescent addiction treatment vs adult addiction treatment; effective treatment for co-occurring disorders (having both a substance use and mental disorder); secondhand drinking | drugging; help for the family; and related subjects. In 2015, she founded SHD Prevention, providing training and consulting to companies, public agencies, unions, nonprofits and other entities to address the workplace impacts of employee secondhand drinking and alcohol misuse.
Lisa Frederiksen

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38 Responses to Addiction Impacts Lives of Millions and Costs Billions

  1. Great point, Lisa. I have always felt that addiction is not getting the attention it deserved from the federal government. They continue the War on Drugs, realize it is not really working, but have not come up with any other plan. Recent elected officials who are in recovery for the most part do not discuss their past. And the stigma continues. Since Betty Ford, there have been a few in congress, but most are silent about their addition and recovery. Betty Ford shed so much light on addiction and breast cancer, it is a shame, no one else seems willing to continue the cause. Thanks for the reminder. I’ll follow your link.

  2. Kyczy says:

    Thank you for this detailed look at the OTHER costs. This is a national issue and we all pay a huge price for the denial, the avoidance and the shame. Like you, in my work, I see the tender pain of the individuals, but I also hear about the ripples the pebble of addiction causes across families and jobs and friends. I am also pleased to see resources so we can contact our legislators. We need to embrace the holistic remedies and get the blame out of this disease.

    • Thank you, Kyczy, for sharing your thoughts. And I absolutely agree with your statement, “We need to embrace the holistic remedies….” There is no one or right way to treat addiction and certainly the work you do with yoga recovery can help addicts/alcoholics, family members and friends succeed in their respective recovery journeys.

  3. Olga Hermans says:

    Those number are staggering. I strongly believe that there are many people who are hopeless out there. It is really sad but true. I like to become more sensitive to people when I go to the store and see people just burdened by the life they try to live

    • Aren’t they though… hopefully by raising awareness about the nature of this disease and its far-reaching impacts on others, we can change how it’s viewed and thereby improve chances for intervention, prevention and treatment. Thanks for adding your comment, Olga!

  4. These are some pretty powerful statistics, Lisa. I agree that the shame and secrecy about addiction needs to stop. It’s difficult enough to deal with those feelings when in recovery let alone society as well. Thank you for bringing an awareness to addiction and recovery. More lived can be saved and happiness can happen again.

  5. Sherie says:

    Those are some very scary numbers, Lisa…the toll that addiction takes on families and governments, emotionally, financially and physically is staggering. I am glad that you pointed out the stigma and shame that is carried with the addiction, that is a critical point. I am sharing your post, it is a very important one!

  6. I know what it’s like to face addiction and live with those that have them. That for talking about the numbers and the facts behind the problem. I also think many people with addictions are self medicating and trying to cope with chemical imbalance. I love to read your articles. Lisa!

    • I so agree with you — many, many who abuse substances or are addicted have a co-occurring mental illness and they start the substance use to self-medicate the emotional pain of the mental illness. Unfortunately, really good dual-diagnosis treatment — treatment that treats both brain diseases concurrently can be hard to find – often because people don’t realize that’s what they really need. Thanks so much for adding your comment, Elizabeth, and thanks for the compliment on my articles!

  7. Jeanne Rust says:

    Hi, Lisa — we treat addiction as a co-occurring disorder with eating disorders. Please read some of the literature about the use of neurofeedback. The studies are phenomenal. Look for articles by Penniston, an earlier researcher at UCLA.

    • Hi Jeanne – I was bulimic for 11 years and anorexic for a year back in my late teens, twenties (30 years ago). It was, in part, because I’d learned to re-eat that I’d always thought alcoholics could learn to re-drink. Immersing myself in the neuroscience and addiction-related research of the past 10-15-20 has unraveled so many of the misconceptions I’d had about all of this. And as you said, the research on using neurofeedback to treat addiction is fascinating (although I have not studied it in depth, nor written about it). If you’d like to write a guest post on this for, I’d love to run it. Thanks so much for adding your comment!

  8. 168 millions? Wow, those numbers are HUGE! And I agree… the numbers would go up even higher if the shame and labeling wasn’t there… Scary! Great informative post. Thanks…

  9. Martha Giffen says:

    From your lips to God’s ears. If ONLY. Good luck with getting either of our political parties to take this issue on. Don’t get me started! SOMEthing needs to be done about rampant over-prescribed meds by the docs, treatment centers that are only interested in profits, half-way houses that are overflowing, lack of real drug education in schools, overcrowded jails that are full of addicts in need of treatment, and on, and on, . . . The problem is so out of control and the philosophy of “see no evil” is just not working. Your stats are alarming but in my opinion, they don’t even scratch the surface. Ok, down from soapbox, but yes, we’re on the same page! Go get ’em!

    • I love it, Martha!! And then we can add insurance coverage (or not) and the lack of any kind of insurance coverage to treat the family members, let alone the children who often go onto repeat the cycle, let alone any kind of information / education around the risk factors — the entry points to the disease…. it is a huge problem. When we consider where society was on HIV-Aids in the early ’80s and where we are today — viewing it as a sexually transmitted disease that can be treated like this and prevented like this — in just 30 years — and where we still are with addiction these scores of decades later (not even counting the centuries before AA)… ugh. But my hope is that by putting a face on recovery (as Faces and Voices of Recovery does) and sharing the science of this disease and its treatment and its far-reaching impacts on the lives of others who also need help and/or treatment — much of it not really known or understood until this past 10-15-20 years — we will eventually turn this tide. Thanks so much for your comment!!

  10. I was practically cheering through this! Addiction is just as huge a problem in the UK. When are the policy makers going to start thinking long-term? Substance abuse is not going to go away and the cost to everyone is going to increase.
    Wonderful post Lisa!

    • Thanks for your enthusiasm, Carolyn! It is such a huge problem, and as Martha commented, it can feel like one is shouting into the wind because the problem is so huge! Someone mentioned that part of the issue is that people who can just have one or two drinks and stop cannot understand why everyone can’t. I thought that was a good point, as well. So….. we all keep doing what we can to raise awareness, which can hopefully lead to change. Thanks for your comment.

  11. Anita says:

    The shame and secrecy has to stop for sure…it only aids in keeping the addicted person addicted 🙁 I personally feel we need to educate in a different way than ever before. What we are doing now, is not working well.

    • I agree with you — the old way is not working. Hopefully this new brain research of just the past 10-15 years will be the difference. Sometimes seeing what happens and understanding the how and why of it can help one appreciate what it’ll take to heal a brain. We can only hope! Thanks for your comment!

  12. Love your graphic, your passion, and your post. Thanks, Lisa!

  13. I think a lot of it comes down to mental illness of one type or another. When people are feeling good about themselves they are less likely to have these issues. I’d bet most homeless people that are abusers and most inmates who are there because of drug problems have these issues because of something that’s happened to them they just haven’t been able to get over.

    • Mental illness is certainly one of the five key risk factors. And often people start to use / abuse substances to self-medicate the mental illness. Early use (heavy drinking/drug use while the brain is going through key developmental stages from ages 12-21) is another — its often reported as the key risk factor because its causing the chemical and structural changes associated with substance abuse as the brain is going through its pruning and strengthening process and its cerebral cortex developmental phase). The remaining three include childhood trauma (verbal, physical emotional abuse; neglect — actually changes the brain’s circuitry as it’s developing from birth); social environment (home, school or work in which heavy drinking/drug use is seen as “normal” and thus a pattern to be copied); and genetics (there are approximately 25K genes in our DNA – how those go together can result in genetic predispositions to substance abuse / addiction, such as lower levels of the liver enzyme that breaks down alcohol or higher or lower levels of neurotransmitters or receptors — similar to how we carry genetic differences that predispose us to eye, hair or skin color or certain illnesses). It’s a complicated, developmental disease, and it starts with substance abuse — that’s what sets up the chemical and structural brain changes. These brain changes, in turn, make a person’s brain more susceptible to their risk factors — sometimes called the entry points to the disease. Thanks so much for your comment, Denise!!

  14. It looks like addiction is a huge problem in all part of the world now. The number in the US alone is so huge, it’s scary. It seems this will not be resolved easily. Like you said Lisa “Sometimes seeing what happens and understanding the how and why of it can help one appreciate what it’ll take to heal a brain. We can only hope!” Thanks for sharing this great post! 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Maria, for adding your comment! As you say — it’s a huge worldwide problem. This relatively new research (much of it in just the past 10-15 years) — conducted and/or reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA); the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA); the World Health Organization (WHO); the Centers for Disease Control (CDC); the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), to name a few — is helping to change the facts of this disease. Much of this is the result of imaging technologies, such as SPECT and fMRI, that allow neuroscientists and medical professionals to study the live human brain in action, over time, with/without mental illness, under the influence, under stress, and as it develops. It’s a slow process to be sure, but it’s wonderful to have the facts, the science to explain something that’s baffled us for so long.

  15. I had no idea about some of those statistics!

  16. Wow! I did not know that the statistics were so high! Thanks for sharing this.

  17. Helena says:

    These are sobering statistics. I’ve seen firsthand the damage that addiction does to a family, and it’s not pretty. Thanks for another powerful post.

  18. Pat Moon says:

    Thanks for this very informative article on addiction and how it affects so many people.. very good information.

  19. […] Recovery –  there is a great deal of confusion, stigma, shame and discrimination surrounding addiction, addiction treatment and addiction recovery. Yet those who have the disease […]

  20. […] Addiction is so deeply shrouded in secrecy, discrimination and shame that it impacts the lives of millions and costs billions of dollars each year. (#Addiction is so deeply shrouded in secrecy & shame.  […]

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