Addiction and Life Expectancy— How Drug Use Takes Years Off Your Life

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Life expectancy rates in the United States have slowed compared to other developed countries, and in recent years have even dropped. And that data was perplexing at first because the biological and medical factors that contribute to life expectancy have mostly improved in recent decades.

More recently, researchers began examining under-discussed factors, such as social, psychological, economic, and behavioral issues. As it turns out, events, habits, and circumstances like being a smoker, having a history of divorce, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, financial difficulties, a history of unemployment, and other life factors greatly influence life expectancy. Many of these issues (especially drug and alcohol use) have become more severe in recent years, resulting in the troubling life expectancy trends in the United States.

As drug and alcohol addiction statistics have gone up, life expectancy has gone down.

Hours of Life Are Lost Every Time Someone Uses Drugs and Alcohol

Drug and alcohol use has a compounding, reductive effect on one’s lifespan. Not only is the actual time spent using drugs considered lost, but every time one uses drugs and alcohol, time is taken off of his or her overall lifespan.

Omni Calculator created an online tool for measuring actual life lost when addicts use substances. According to their data:

  • One instance of drinking alcohol excessively shortens life by 6.5 hours.
  • One experience with cocaine removes 6.6 hours from one's lifespan.
  • One encounter with methamphetamine reduces lifespan by 9.2 hours.
  • Using heroin takes 24 hours off of one’s life.
  • Self-medicating with methadone shortens life by 14.7 hours.

The above calculations are for each, individual usage of each substance. Furthermore, the above data assumes that addicts survive those encounters and do not overdose.

Here’s what the numbers look like if someone uses the above substances every day and started using the substances at age 18:

  • Someone who abuses alcohol every day will lose about 13 years off their overall lifespan.
  • Someone who uses cocaine every day will also lose about 13 years of life.
  • Someone who uses meth daily will give up about 17 years of life.
  • An individual who self-medicates on methadone sacrifices about 23 years of life.
  • A heroin addict who uses heroin daily will lose about 30 years of life as a result.

Predicting Mortality—Using Addictive Substances is Directly Linked to a Shorter Lifespan

A study out of California confirmed the Omni Calculator data. The study showed that drug users tended to live much shorter lives than non-addicts. The study followed 581 male heroin addicts in California for 33 years. Towards the end of the study period, the researchers found that 282 subjects had died.

Many of the study participants had died from natural causes, having given up on heroin use at some point within the 33 year study period. But about 22 percent of the 282 deaths were from overdoses, 14 percent from liver disease, and 10 percent were from accidents. Overall, the study found that each deceased study participant had experienced about 18 years of “YPLL” (years of potential life lost) due to using heroin (22%) or due to liver disease or accidents.

So not only is time spent using drugs and alcohol lost forever, but using drugs also shaves precious hours and even years off of a person's overall lifespan. That's why it’s so critical that people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol seek help via addiction treatment programs.

And as another consequence, long-term addicts tend to live shorter lives even after they get clean. That’s why it’s so critical that addicts get help as soon as possible. Seeking treatment is not something that can be put off. The longer a family member or loved one uses drugs, the shorter they will live. The sooner they get help, the better chance they will have for a long and fulfilling life.

Addiction Treatment – Saving Life by Halting the Dwindling Spiral of Addiction

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug abuse has been one of the primary contributors to halted lifespan growth and even the more recent life expectancy decline in the United States. According to Robert R. Redfield, MD and CDC director, “The latest CDC data show that the U.S. life expectancy has declined over the past few years. Tragically, this troubling trend is largely driven by deaths from drug overdose and suicide. Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable.

Another study found that America’s drug crisis causes far more damage than just those who die from direct exposure to drugs. Study authors Dana Glei and Samuel Preston found that drug abuse in America is causing an increase in not only deaths from drug overdoses, but also in deaths that are somehow related to drugs as in the case of accidents, crime, health complications, reduced employment, loss of access to healthcare, mental difficulties, etc. If drug abuse and alcohol addiction are not halted, prospects for many Americans' lives and well-being will remain grim.

There is no doubt that drug and alcohol addiction can cause permanent, irreparable damage and can shorten one's lifespan. But that is not a reason to despair and continue using drugs. That is a reason to get clean as soon as possible.

If you know someone who is using drugs and alcohol, please do everything you can to help them get into a drug and alcohol treatment center. Every day they continue to use drugs; they lose parts of their life they may never get back again. But that can all be remedied with addiction treatment. Contact Narconon today to take the first step towards helping your loved one get better.


Reviewed and Edited by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.