By Eva Hilton
Buying on credit remains as popular as ever in the United States, even after the tough lessons of the 2008 global financial crisis. Over 46% of all American households have credit card debt and the average outstanding amount is $15,191. Although credit card debt declined immediately after the financial crisis hit (between 2009 and 2010), the number of indebted families rose again sharply in 2011 and remained at that higher level ever since. A lifestyle of living pay check to pay check fuels the use of credit cards, but the experience of college student debt is also one that can build a habit and a sense of normalcy of being indebted. Yet what many Americans fail to realize is that credit card debt not only has the potential to result in financial woes, but also in a wide range of health problems.
Debt and High Blood Pressure
Scientists at Northwestern University conducted a study among indebted Americans, in order to determine what health effects looming debt had on one's health. There were a total of 8,400 participants in the study, all of whom were between 24 and 32 year of age. What they discovered was that indebtedness and high blood pressure are closely linked, especially among young Americans. It was specifically one's diastolic blood pressure that appeared to increase as a result of major outstanding debt. The study focused on people who noted that their amount owing was so severe, that they would be unable to break free of it, even if they managed to sell all of their assets. Those with high debt had blood pressure levels that were 1.3% above the median. While this may not appear very significant at first glance, doctors note that levels that are just 2% higher than the mean result in a 15% higher risk of suffering a stroke than the average population. Americans in debt were also 13% more likely to display symptoms of clinical depression. With 73% of Americans noting that financial woes cause significant stress in their lives, it is clearly time to take the health risks of credit card debt seriously.
The Connection Between Debt and Drug Use
Out of control credit card debt is also strongly connected to drug abuse, according to research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Depression and debt are often part of the same cycle, and one that is very difficult to break. In a comprehensive study of attempted suicide among middle-aged Americans, researchers discovered that two of the most common factors present in a majority of cases were prescription drug abuse and financial challenges. Poverty and addiction are very closely linked, with scientists at the National Institute for Drug Abuse noting that "exerting self control can become seriously impaired" when someone is addicted to drugs, and this has a major impact on one's personal spending and financial choices. Some drugs, heroin in particular, result in drastically decreased mental functions, depression, as well as medical conditions, such as heart failure and severe arthritis, which are costly to treat for people without comprehensive medical insurance. Treatments specialists who deal with heroin addicts also speak of debilitating "bone aches" and the necessity of comprehensive medical intervention, to get the patient's health and overall well-being back in order. The rise in heroin use in the United States is becoming a major concern and is fueled by the fact that this form of contraband is now cheaper than ever, with deaths related to heroin having increased by a staggering 84% in New York City between 2010 and 2012. The same study, which formed part of the National Survey on Drug Use, showed that heroin use had risen by 79% nationally.
The connect between drug use and debt is complex and reciprocal, in that the stress caused by out of control credit card debt can lead to an attempted escape from this situation through drug use, but drug addiction as well often results in serious debt, among people who otherwise would not have gotten into such financially dire situations. Yet in addition to drug use, staggering credit card debt has been shown to lead to a range of other health issues, including anxiety, depression and high blood pressure, which in turn can lead to heart disease and stroke. The culture of buying on credit and worrying about making payments later has become pervasive in western society, and while this may be convenient, it can also come back with a vengeance years later, when debtors pay not only with their wallets, but also with their health.