The cost of addiction: Part 2

The effects of addiction

In this part two of ‘the cost of addiction’ Moneybags journalist Jessica Anne Wood looks at the impact that addiction has on the various areas of a person’s life, with testimonials from recovering addicts. The primary focus will be on gambling, drug and alcohol addictions. We also ask the important question of ‘can you be fired for having an addiction?’

Addiction is an issue that plagues many people, and not just those suffering from the addiction, but their family, friends and colleagues as well.


The financial effect of addiction

An addiction can completely destroy your life, according to Simon Turner, director of Cape Recovery and a recovering alcoholic. There are a number of areas of a person’s life that the addiction can affect, from financial and social, to emotional and health related issues. Pankhurst adds that addiction is a disease of loss, as you tend to lose things in most aspects of your life.

Renate Netzel, a counsellor at LifeLine, highlights that whether the addiction is drugs, gambling, alcohol, sex or food, they all cost money.

“As the habit increases, so does the financial pressure. Hiding the addiction, may mean travelling further distances to cover the tracks, which impacts on fuel costs as well. If the addiction becomes unmanageable, and it invariably does after a period of time, addicts could end up losing their jobs which causes them to sell assets and dig into savings and other resources. It can cripple family members and friends as well as they try to help the addict. Be it with paying for a rehab, picking up hospital bills or getting the addict out of a squeeze,” explains Netzel.

Some of the situations that an addict may need to helped out of include, jail, debt, unpaid bills, child maintenance, basic needs like food and shelter, doctors and medication, among others.

Quintin van Kerken, chief executive officer of Anti Drug Alliance South Africa, is a recovering drug addict and an anti-drug campaigner. Van Kerken and Pankhurst agree that an addiction can lead to a person losing everything.

“I personally managed to blow R14 million in two years on drugs. That’s the extreme, however most people are smacked right out of the park financially. Addiction is very insidious. Truthfully speaking, most drugs or addictive pursuits are not that expensive in the beginning. But, as time goes by, we spend more and more money getting the drugs, and less time making money to pay for the drugs. It’s not uncommon for addicts to spend R20 000 and R30 000 a month on their addiction. Some may spend substantially less, others may spend substantially more,” reveals van Kerken.

Percy Kwinda, CEO of the Gambling Indaba, notes that the side effects of a gambling addiction can vary. “We have seen people who have lost everything, their jobs, houses, cars and eventually their families, and relationships as well, because there is a lot of deceit.”

According to Kwinda, once a person is addicted to gambling, some may take money intended for paying bills and other costs, and rather gamble with it. Sometimes the intention is to double or try to increase their income, but this is not always the case.

Tony* is actively involved in Gamblers Anonymous (GA), and is a recovering gambling addict himself. He notes: “In hindsight the financial part of it is the reason that you stop gambling eventually. But when you sort of work out the reason that you did gamble, it’s not because you didn’t have money, because most people who gamble have got jobs. [You] will never have money for gambling, but we don’t realise that when we are compulsive gamblers.”

Kwinda adds: “People who like gambling lie to conceal their addictions, and they manipulate others to give them money, they often commit fraud, at work especially. We have seen cases of people who have defrauded companies, CFOs who have used company money to fund their addiction. Some even steal money from their loved ones, it is similar to drug addiction in a way.”


The social impact of addiction

In addition to the financial impact that gambling can have on your life, there are social and emotional impacts that you can suffer too. Tony reveals that when he was gambling he suffered from low self-esteem, as well as from guilt. He also says that while his addiction didn’t affect his family life, he is aware of instances where it has had an impact.

“If someone is an alcoholic or uses drugs socially, it can go unnoticed for some time before warning flags are raised. Once the addict and alcoholic knows family members and friends are watching their behaviour and habit, the addict then tends to isolate and suffers incredibly from acute loneliness. Having said that, even before that the addict feels very alone and misunderstood,” says Netzel.

Van Kerken agrees that addiction can often result in loneliness. “In the more progressed stages of addiction, most addicts will tell you it is very lonely. Most addicts will withdraw because they fear being caught, but more often so that people don’t see how they are destroying themselves.”


Can you get fired for an addiction?

Vaughn Pankhurst, director of Recovery Direct and a recovering alcoholic, stresses that the law is very clear in stating that a company cannot fire a person for suffering from an addiction as it is recognised as a disease, and a person cannot be fired for being sick.

If your company suspects or discovers that a person is suffering from an addiction, they have to follow due process. In other words, they need call the person in and need to be firm and direct about the issue, while at the same time respecting the fact that the person has a problem.

However, Pankhurst notes that most employers are not in a position to carry out an accurate assessment. This is where businesses such as Recovery Direct come into play.

“They would contact someone like me and we would arrange an interview with the employer and we will try and find out if they understand even that they have a problem, and if they have a problem, then we will make recommendations to the employer, and then obviously the employer has to allow the employee to go into treatment or to attend an outpatient programme.

“They can make it part and parcel of the disciplinary hearing that they have to go to rehab and clean up and can give them written deadlines, and it can be a condition that if they don’t, if they continue to relapse and they generally don’t get their lives back in order, then they can be fired. They have to give the person the option to recover first,” explains Pankhurst.

However, if theft is involved in your actions at work, it becomes less clear on the action that the employer is allowed to take.

“If the person says “I am stealing to feed my addiction”, I think that the employer would have to give them the option to clean up first. It’s a tricky one, but I think if they were dismissed without due process and without being given the option of rehabilitation, I think the employers would find themselves in a bit of hot water. We are not saying that they shouldn’t take action as far as the theft is concerned, but simultaneously you must give them the chance to rehabilitate,” says Pankhurst.


Important contacts

Below are the contact details for the organisations mentioned in this article:

Alcoholics Anonymous – 0861 HELP AA (435-722)

Gamblers Anonymous Gauteng – 071 377 2746 or 060 624 7140

Gamblers Anonymous KwaZulu Natal – 031 463 1616

Gamblers Anonymous Western Cape – 084 400 5844

National Responsible Gambling Programme – 0800 006 008

Recovery Direct – 083 415 7804

Cape Recovery – 082 6359419

LifeLine – 011 728-1347

Anti Drug Alliance South Africa – 011 083 7607


* Out of respect for the contributor, Moneybags has agreed to keep their identity confidential.


Click here to read part 1: Reaching the road of recovery

Click here to read part 3: The signs, symptoms and factors