In an age where the average consumer spends roughly $10,000 a year on healthcare, according to the financial well-being website Debt.org, it’s only natural for those who need addiction treatment to wonder: What does drug rehab cost?
When those concerns are coupled with the fact that many addicts and alcoholics have very little cash on hand, and often no commercial health insurance plan, finding out the price tag for an effective drug and alcohol treatment center might make such help seem beyond reach.
It's not, but when you’re dealing with an illness that spawns hopelessness in both those who suffer from it and those who care about the ones suffering, looking into those costs may seem like a pointless endeavor. But by understanding the prices that addiction treatment providers charge, it may help explain exactly what you’re getting for your money, and why it can be a bargain.
After all, the commodity you’re purchasing is freedom, and for those who have built a life in recovery from addiction or alcoholism, that’s something no amount of money can buy.
Why Are Healthcare Costs So High?
Before we get into answering the question of what does drug rehab cost, let’s look at the price of healthcare in the United States. Spoiler alert: It’s not a pretty picture.
According to a report in the May-June 2020 issue of Harvard Magazine, “The United States has many problems in medical care, from the large share of the population still uninsured (about 10 percent of us) to one of the lowest life expectancies in the developed world. Underlying all these problems is the high cost of medical care. We do not guarantee adequate access to medical care because we cannot figure out how to pay for it.”
Last February, NBC News reported that one in three Americans worries about affording healthcare, and “one in 5 … said they had problems paying or were unable to pay their medical bills over the last two years.” Almost 50 percent of those surveyed said they had to dip into their retirement funds or borrow from family and friends to pay healthcare costs, the report goes on to add.
So why are healthcare costs — which naturally play a role in asking, “what does drug rehab cost?” — so high? According to a report from Today.com, “The most salient reason is that U.S. health care is based on a ‘for-profit insurance system,’ one of the only ones in the world, according to Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, who's advocated for reform in the health-insurance market.” Debating the merits of that can turn into a political football that has no part in a discussion about the cost of addiction treatment, but it does stand to reason, the article goes on to point out, “The underlying motive to make money has a ripple effect that increases prices.”
In addition, because medical debt is so prevalent in America, those who can afford it often pick up the price tag for those who cannot. And on top of that, according to a 2017 study published in the Annals of Medicine, the overhead administrative costs — in other words, the red tape — are staggering: “U.S. insurers and providers spent $812 billion on administration, amounting to $2497 per capita (34.2% of national health expenditures).” That’s compared to just 17% of national health expenditures on administration in Canada, the journal article points out.
Other reasons for high healthcare costs:
- Americans are charged per service: “In many parts of the health care ecosystem, people are paid for volume, and so that fuels an orientation toward, 'We might as well get an extra scan,’” says Dr. Harlan Krumholz, cardiologist and professor of health policy at Yale School of Medicine. “It's in the economic interest of the hospital, the physician, the health care system when they're being paid fee-for-service, and the justification is that more is better.”
- “The companies that provide and charge for health care, like hospital systems and drug makers, have more power to keep costs high when they're negotiating with multiple potential payers, like various private insurance companies.”
- In many parts of rural America, health care services and insurance providers leave consumers with few choices — meaning they have little incentive to lower prices.
That may be absolutely no consolation whatsoever if you’re wondering, “what does drug rehab cost?,” but it does put into perspective why healthcare costs for any sort of medical service remain high.
So What Does Drug Rehab Cost?
There’s no fixed price for drug and alcohol treatment, so the actual cost depends on a number of factors. First, it’s important to understand what it is, exactly, that you’re paying for. Typically, some of the factors that play a role in determining costs, according to the online health referral source WebMD, including the following:
- Type of program;
- Length of treatment;
- Geographic location; and
- Amenities offered.
For example, a five-day stay just for medical detox will cost less than 90 days of treatment that includes detox, 30 days of residential inpatient and 60 days of intensive outpatient. It’s also important to note that the more treatment an addict or alcohol receives, the more likely they are to be successful for a drug and alcohol problem, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): “Research indicates that most addicted individuals need at least 3 months in treatment to significantly reduce or stop their drug use and that the best outcomes occur with longer durations of treatment.”
Geographic location plays a role as well: A drug and alcohol treatment center near Knoxville, Tennessee, for example, will cost less than one in a state like California, where the cost of living, and thus the cost of goods and services, is higher. And the specific amenities a rehab facility offers will play a role in how much that facility charges for treatment as well: A center with a spa, private rooms, a pool, tennis courts and therapy animals like horses, for example, will cost more than a state-run, bare-bones facility.
The types of programs, however, are fairly common throughout the industry, and it’s those essential treatment components that make up what’s considered effective drug and alcohol treatment. Those components, and their costs range, are broken down by the national addiction resource DrugHelpLine.org:
- “Medical detox costs from $250 to $800 per day;
- “Intensive outpatient treatment can be anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000;
- “Outpatient rehab typically ranges between $1,400 to $10,000; and
- “Residential addiction treatment is the most expensive, from $5,000 to $80,000 or more.”
Whoa. That’s A Lot
It is, and as with most major healthcare services, the sticker shock may turn your stomach. Deep breaths. Let’s take a deeper look at what, exactly, you get with those services:
- Room and board: Whether you’re only receiving medical detox or you’re staying for a 30-day regimen of residential inpatient treatment, you get a warm bed to sleep in, a roof over your head, and three meals a day in most treatment facilities. Lower-cost facilities may mean you share a room; more expensive ones may mean you have a room to yourself. Either way, you have a place to lay your head that’s safe, secure, monitored and protected.
- Medication: If you need detox from drugs and alcohol, especially those that can be dangerous to withdraw from like alcohol or miserable to detox from like opioids, you’re going to need medical care. Facilities with a medical detox program examine you when you arrive just as you would receive at a doctor’s office, and once your vitals are established, you’ll be put on a medication regimen to help you slowly, safely and comfortably come off of those substances. You’ll be checked on regularly, medication will be adjusted and medical personnel will be on duty around the clock in case of emergencies or just to keep an eye on you.
- Therapy: Drug and alcohol treatment involves therapy. Lots and lots of therapy. You’ll see therapists and counselors ranging from those whose credentials are built on real-world experiences — meaning they’re in recovery themselves from addiction or alcoholism — all the way up to specially trained addiction medicine therapists. Whether it’s moderating Family Therapy with your loved ones, engaging you in one-on-one Trauma Therapy to address issues that drive your addiction, or something as arcane-sounding as Schema Therapy to help you develop new coping skills, some of the costs associated with treatment involve paying these individuals to help you, just as you would if you sought therapy outside of a treatment facility.
- Psychiatric Services: Asking, “what does drug rehab cost?” doesn’t even begin to cover the entirety of what drug rehab really is. For example, many addicts and alcoholics suffer from untreated mental health issues like depression or bipolar disorder, or they have been treated for those issues in the past but haven’t taken care of themselves in a while. A facility with a dedicated psychiatric team will help get those problems under control, prescribe medication, work with you to develop a dual diagnosis treatment plan to manage those issues and your addiction and help you find proper follow-up care after you discharge.
- Speaking of aftercare: A reputable treatment facility will spend a great deal of time helping you plan your life after you leave treatment, so that the tools you receive there can be put to good use while you take care of things back home. Perhaps you need to get into a sober living facility, or make arrangements for an Intensive Outpatient Program. Maybe you have legal issues that you need treatment staff to help you navigate. You’ll most likely need to make contact with a support group in your hometown so that you have other recovering addicts and alcoholics to lean on when you get home. Staff members who also moderate your groups, help you work on individual treatment assignments and more also spend part of their time doing those things.
- And then there are the costs of those aforementioned amenities: Auxiliary services, like on-campus non-narcotic pain management for those with chronic pain issues … fitness therapists to help you develop a physical activity routine … nursing to dispense daily medications … housekeeping, to change your bedsheets and clean your room.
In other words, a good drug and alcohol rehab ensures that every need is met, and while those needs cost money, a lot of what you pay for is designed for one purpose: to help you get better.
What Does Drug Rehab Cost: Is It Worth It?
Here’s the truth that many drug and alcohol treatment centers may not admit to: Despite the cost of treatment, there’s no guarantee that it will be 100 percent effective. The NIDA says as much: “Recovery from drug addiction is a long-term process and frequently requires multiple episodes of treatment. As with other chronic illnesses, relapses to drug abuse can occur and should signal a need for treatment to be reinstated or adjusted.”
However, it can be effective, especially for those with the desire to stay clean and sober, and who apply the tools they learn in treatment to their lives outside of it. And that desire, unfortunately, is the one component of recovery that doesn’t come in a pill or a therapy session or in any sort of treatment textbook. It’s unique to each individual, and what’s more, it’s often mercurial: A great many addicts and alcoholics come to rehab begrudgingly but leave completely transformed and never pick up a drug or a drink again. Others come in, thrive and lose sight of the bigger picture — that addiction is a chronic, progressive and fatal disease that only takes one time to start back up with a vengeance.
Know this: A reputable drug and alcohol treatment center will be cautious in its claims of success, share with you any evidence it has that its programs work and do everything in the staff’s power to set you (or your loved one) up for success, in treatment and after it’s complete. Asking “what does drug rehab cost?” is a fair question to which you certainly deserve an answer, but just as important is a question you should ask of each facility you consider for help: What am I getting for my money?
Those who work for some of the best drug and alcohol treatment facilities will answer with this: Everything we have to give, so that you or your loved one stops using, loses the desire to do so and finds a new way of life, free from addiction.