Disclaimer: Neither Centsai nor the writer promotes or encourages substance abuse. At Centsai, we’re committed to talking about money – even the taboo stuff. Even so, it’s up to you to be responsible. Given the sensitive subject matter, all sources in this article are anonymous.

Let's get real: We all know someone who doles out cash for recreational drugs.

Once upon a time, drugs were considered part of the underground – part of a counterculture.

However, as generations have evolved, drugs have become more and more mainstream. Need proof? Recreational use of marijuana is now legal in four states. That means anyone can roll up to a dispensary and get some mind-altering grass.

Just last year in 2015, legal pot sales grew to astronomical levels – a whopping 5.4 billion dollars. Billion, with a “B.”

But it’s not just weed that’s getting consumed – there is a wide variety of other drugs out there. Though weed is the only legal substance on the market, heroin use has skyrocketed. Ecstasy (aka Molly) is still popular among club crowds, and meth and cocaine are still widely used. That’s not even considering the legal prescription drugs that are often abused, too.

The fact is that both legal and illegal drugs make up a huge portion of the economy.

Every day, people are spending their money – hard earned or not – to get high. Drugs have now entered the mainstream, beyond just known addicts and people suffering from depression.

People turn to drugs for a variety of reasons. It ranges from wanting to try something new, to healing chronic anxiety or stress, to succumbing to peer pressure.

One source I spoke with wanted to experiment a little. She decided to try pot and hallucinogenic mushrooms. She spent $15 on weed and spent $75 on mushrooms.

Getting high was fun for a while – until it wasn’t.

Fortunately, after spending a lot of money on the drugs – and spending even more on things like takeout food – she realized it wasn’t for her.

Some users come up with creative new ways to cut costs when it comes to their habits.

One person I spoke with mentioned bartering a bike for a stash of grass. “You see, this underground entrepreneurial spirit happens within these communities where the substance isn’t legal,” she pointed out.

For others, doing drugs isn’t so much about getting high and having a fun night or forgetting everything for a moment. It’s about healing.

Another contact uses medical marijuana for anxiety disorder. She buys it from a dispensary, and told me that it costs her $90 to $120 each month. She budgets for it like any other medical expense. As a result, she tends to be more frugal by staying at home and avoiding any drug-induced shopping or food purchases.

Costs Related to Getting High

Buying drugs to get high is an expensive habit. Everyone knows that, even those who are not users. The real long term cost, however, is much higher. Let’s face it – we don’t always make the best decisions when we’re under the influence.

You can spend a lot of money on eating out (munchies, anyone?). You can end up buying more drugs on impulse, or be swayed into shopping or spending money on something else on a whim. And then there is the cost of a likely criminal conviction if you are caught – a DUI charge can cost up to $10,000.

This level of damage to individuals is playing out at a much bigger scale nationally. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, economic costs of drug abuse result in $120 billion in lost productivity, as well as $11 billion in healthcare costs.

The recreational marijuana available freely in some states has led to louder demand for it to be adopted in other states. The economics are attractive, as the revenue has been great and the additional taxes have padded state budgets.

At the same time, usage of hard-core drugs have ruined the financial and personal lives of hundreds of thousands in this country. Especially if you discount the “high-functioning” junkies on Wall Street who are glamorized in movies.

As many more join in the “recreational” pursuit – and let’s not pretend they won’t – I would like to see drugs being used in a responsible way. Whether you’re doing it for relief from pain or anxiety, or just to get a feeling of wellbeing, it has to fit the budget. If you must do it – and I am not going to get into an argument here over whether you should or shouldn’t – at least keep a sharp eye out on your cash withdrawals!