Last Updated on February 8, 2021
Consistent heavy drinking harms your physical and mental health, as well as your relationships with others. And the damage doesn’t stop there—problems with alcohol can hurt your pockets too.
Even if your drinking doesn’t affect your work performance or jeopardize your job, the cost of buying alcohol adds up. Your drinking habits could cause you to spend beyond your monthly budget, or slow you down in reaching your goals.
It makes good financial sense to change your drinking habits and put more money in the bank. But traditional treatment programs, such as inpatient rehab, are also expensive.
So, how much is your alcohol consumption really costing you? Is rehab cheaper in the long run? Or do you have other options to change your habits and save money?
How Much Do People Spend On Alcohol?
The amount of money you spend on alcohol depends on how often you drink, how much you drink, whether you’re drinking at home or in a bar, and the quality of alcohol you buy.
The cost of living in your city also factors in to how much you’re spending on alcohol. In terms of alcohol spending statistics, the average person living in New York City might rack up more than $121,000 in alcoholic beverages in their lifetime. Meanwhile, the average person in Birmingham, Alabama spends only $58,000. By decreasing their alcohol use by only 25 percent, people in these cities could save hundreds of dollars annually.
And that’s just on average. Now, let’s estimate the amount a heavy drinker spends on alcohol in a week, month, and year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drinking is classified as “heavy” for men who drink 15 or more alcoholic beverages per week. For women, “heavy drinking” means eight or more drinks weekly.
Let’s suppose the average drink costs $7 at a bar. That means men who drink heavily outside the house spend at least $105 on alcohol weekly, while women with similar habits would spend at least $56. In a month, that adds up to about $420 for men and $224 for women.
In a year, such drinking habits would cost over $5,000 for men, and nearly $3,000 for women. By these numbers, a heavy drinker could spend $60,000-$100,000 in just 20 years. While buying alcohol and drinking it in your house might cut this cost down, it’s still a ton of money. Enough to buy a nice car, pay for a child’s college education, make a down payment on a home, or treat yourself to an annual vacation (maybe even two!).
Of course, the amount of money each individual spends on alcohol varies. Find out just how much of your money goes to alcohol by using this alcohol spending calculator. What would you rather do with that money instead?
Additional Costs of Excessive Drinking
The numbers above only factor in the cost of alcohol itself. But for many heavy drinkers, the financial toll of alcohol abuse goes far beyond overspending.
Drinking that gets out of control can lead to job loss, arrests, car accidents and other injuries, damaged property, and more. That means potential costs like legal fees, hospital bills, and higher insurance premiums. In fact, a first-time DUI can cost you thousands of dollars.
Between the money spent on alcohol, the threat of employment issues, and the possibility of major costs like medical and legal fees, it’s clear that excessive drinking can completely derail your finances. Quitting or cutting back is a smart move that can propel you closer to financial security, and attaining your life goals.
Of course, shaking any habit is tough—especially one that involves brain-altering substances like alcohol or drugs. It’s often necessary to seek extra support. The problem is, alcohol treatment often carries a steep price tag as well.
How Much Does Rehab Cost?
Alcohol treatment costs vary based on location and the level of care required. Detox can cost hundreds of dollars per day, while outpatient rehab can cost thousands per month. Inpatient can cost tens of thousands per month—especially at high-end facilities (luxury rehabs), or those that offer a more intensive level of treatment. And keep in mind that many people stay in rehab for 60 or 90 days.
A stay in rehab also means being out of work for at least 30 days, most likely without pay. On top of this, the relapse rate for substance use disorders like alcoholism is 40 to 60 percent. Many people who struggle with alcohol addiction visit rehab multiple times.
Is Rehab Cheaper Than a Lifetime of Drinking?
Despite the expense of rehab, seeking treatment might be cheaper in the long run—especially for those who drink heavily. Remember, we calculated that a heavy drinker could spend $60,000-$100,000 on alcohol in just 20 years. Over a lifetime, this could mean hundreds of thousands. If we’re looking at the big picture, a $20,000 stay in a treatment facility is far less expensive.
Still, $20,000 is a lot of money to spend at once. For many people, it’s simply not possible. In 2018 alone, over 400,000 people in the United States who needed treatment for drug or alcohol abuse couldn’t get it because of the prohibitively high cost. Even for some with health insurance, the whole cost of treatment wasn’t covered.
For those who can afford rehab, the financial strain can still continue long after treatment is complete. And stress is a trigger that can negatively impact recovery—potentially leading to more drinking, more rehab, and ultimately more money spent.
Are There Cheaper Alternatives To Rehab?
Although these numbers may sound discouraging, they are only general examples. Affordable alcohol treatment alternatives exist. You don’t have to choose between expensive drinking habits or a costly stay in rehab. You don’t even have to choose to quit drinking entirely.
Traditional treatment programs, although a well-known option, are not the cheapest way to alcohol recovery. In fact, they aren’t even always the most effective.
In addition to being expensive and time-consuming, mainstream treatment programs often use outdated approaches that don’t reflect the latest research, or medical best practices. For example, we now know that abstinence is not the only option. And for some people, the abstinence-only approach does more harm than good.
Modern science shows that types of treatments based on medication, counseling, mindfulness, and harm reduction can make a significant difference. And with advances in technology, new options like online rehab have emerged. This approach is much more affordable, and you don’t even have to leave home or take time off work to get the support you need.
Ria Health is one telemedicine program offering a proactive, cheaper alternative to rehab—100 percent from an app on your smartphone. Members set their own goals, including abstinence or moderation, and we design custom treatment plans to help them get there.