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Pay Now or Pay Later

Author: Kathleen Nelson-Simley Posted: Thursday - November 28, 2019

Does alcohol and other drug prevention make sense in a time of shrinking budgets, fewer staff resources and an increasing emphasis on student performance?

Should we make the time to do substance use prevention?

Is there any benefit to keeping prevention alive?

The answer is clearly, “Yes!”

According to a recent article published by Verywell Mind, the estimated cost of substance abuse in the United States, including illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, is more than $820 billion a year and growing.

The total annual costs related to each type of drug is…

$300 billion for tobacco use.

$249 billion for alcohol abuse.

$193 billion for illegal drug abuse.

$78.5 billion for prescription drug abuse.

The total costs to society for substance abuse goes beyond the financial costs. Other costs include workplace productivity, unemployment, crime, domestic abuse, divorce, homelessness and physical and mental health issues.

For adolescents, more specifically, the costs can be life changing. Research shows the earlier the age a person begins to use substances, the more likely they will have problems later in life as an adult. Beginning to use alcohol and other drugs at an early age places a kid at higher risk for academic failure, social, emotional, mental and physical developmental issues, teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, crime, addiction, accidents and injuries and relationship problems – just to name a few. The earlier these problems begin to emerge in adolescence, the more likely they are to carry over into adulthood and become even bigger problems for the individual, their families and the community.

If you are concerned about what the adults in your community are doing when it comes to alcohol and other drug use and the costs of their behavior to your community, then making a commitment to doing effective prevention with your kids today is imperative. Why? Because your kids today will become your adults and parents in the future.

The bottom line is…the later the age a kid begins to use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, the less likely they will have problems later in their life as an adult. Pushing back the age of when kids begin to use substances (or in other words, delaying the onset of use) needs to be a primary goal in every prevention effort. Achieving this goal increases the likelihood kids grow up to be productive, responsible and healthy adults in the future.

Investing your time and financial resources in effective evidence-based prevention programs and approaches with your kids today is important and does pay off in the future.


According to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the average evidence-based prevention program costs $220 per pupil including materials and teacher training. While this isn’t necessarily cheap, the benefits in purely economic terms are tremendous. The average evidence-based prevention program could save an estimated $18 for every $1 invested.

Think about prevention like the old Fram oil filter commercial that had the tag line, “You can pay now or you can pay later.” Spend a little bit of money now on prevention and it will reduce the unavoidable greater expense of paying for bigger problems later.

The benefits of substance abuse prevention are not always the most immediate or obvious, but they are there. Investing a little in each of our students will not only make their life better today, but also give them a better life later.