Healthcare Cost Profile of Untreated Addictive Diseases

  • This graphic illustrates the escalating costs of repeated relapse episodes of untreated drug addiction. For example, data from Blose, et al shows a gradual 38% increase in the monthly costs of care of alcoholic patients over several years prior to a serious health crisis. Immediately prior to crisis, costs increased to nearly 350% of baseline levels, and then ramped up sharply to 10 times the baseline rate in the final month. If patients are stabilized, costs may decline temporarily, but will rise again prior to the next health crisis.
  • Ultimately, the patient's health care cost history will assume a serrated aspect as in this figure, alternately rising and falling between crises and remissions, with a steadily compounding floor due to aging and the accumulation of unresolved symptoms. This type of cost profile is typical of many chronic exacerbating/remitting illnesses which can only be treated palliatively.
  • However, good evidence exists that addictive illnesses can be treated at more than a palliative level. This research shows that when treatment is available, and is targeted appropriately at the addictive behavior rather than merely at the secondary health effects of that behavior, substantial benefits unfold.
  • Sources: Blose, J.O., Holder, H.D., "The utilization of medical care by treated alcoholics: Longitudinal Patterns by Age, Gender, and Type of Care" (1991), Journal of Substance Abuse, (3):13-27; Langenbucher, J.W., "Prescription for Health Care Costs: Resolving Addictions in the General Medical Setting" (1994), Alc Clin Exp Res, 18:1033-1036; Luce, B., Elizxhauser, A., Standards for the socioeconomic evaluation of health care services (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990).