Managing Money and Addiction Recovery
In recovery, you heard a lot about emotions, spirituality, and self-awareness. One thing you probably didn't hear enough about was money management even though it might be one of the most important keys to a successful recovery. Why? Many addicts use up their entire life savings to fund their addiction. As soon as they receive cash, they spend it on drugs until they find their way into homelessness, poverty, and debt. Even those who don't find themselves in financial ruin begin to associate spending money with the rush of getting high. This can turn money into a powerful trigger or lead to spending on other things becoming a replacement addiction. For these reasons, money management is just as important as the "Big Three" — people, places, and things to avoid — and it is critical to understand this fourth threat to sobriety.
Money Issues as a Relapse Trigger
Financial management is a life skill that many recovering addicts may not have learned or may have lost over the course of their active addiction. While poor money management may not seem connected to being able to spend money on drugs and alcohol, it is directly tied to substance abuse. Poor money management leads to debt, and debt leads to stress. When a person begins to feel hopeless and unable to change their situation, they may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. This is no different than the loss of hope that could come with struggling to find employment or having trouble paying bills.
Like other relapse triggers, the key to avoiding relapse is to understand the trigger and learn how to avoid it. Recovery centers should teach and reinforce lifelong money management techniques like budgeting, tracking spending, having a bank account, and saving money. This education is key to steering people who are early in recovery down the right path.
Employment and Money Management for Recovering Addicts
Recovery should be the first priority because it requires time and focus. If a recovering addict returns to work too early, they risk any financial progress they make being only temporary. However, finding a job IS one of the most critical next steps early in the recovery process. It is crucial in rebuilding confidence, repaying debts, and achieving goals, but it also means having a steady flow of cash – something that used to be closely tied with drug use.
To achieve success, you must carefully draw the line between focusing on the positive gains and becoming obsessed with obtaining money. A fixation on money can cause a person to stray from self-care and to experience the same stresses that helped trigger their initial addiction.
Families must help recovering addicts manage their money even if the family doesn't generally openly discuss money. While finding a job is important, any discussions of employment should be coupled with how the money earned will be used to build a sound financial future and how relapse will be avoided.
Shopping to Fill a Void
Addiction chemically rewires neural pathways, so there is a high probability of the brain beginning to associate money and getting high with pleasure. Even addicts well into recovery must be especially careful about money as it can trigger relapse even years after rehab. While they may not return to substance abuse, they may try to fill the void once filled by substances with reckless spending. This could mean excessive spending on new clothes, video games, tattoos, or other non-essentials and not having enough money left over for groceries, rent, or bills.
Money Management Tips for Addiction Recovery
Sometimes it’s necessary for recovering addicts to have more help with their money in the beginning. It can be helpful to have someone limit the amount of money they have access to — especially if money has been a trigger in the past. The patient may be advised to put their paycheck and other income in the care of a trusted person (often their mother), and this person obviously should not be using drugs. Because safeguards can’t last forever, the person who is controlling access to money must make sure they are also teaching money management skills and gradually giving more financial responsibility to the person they’re helping. Some of the keys to successful money management include
- Taking an inventory of assets and debts. Ask a friend or family member to help you make amends and pay down past debts while avoiding dwelling on negative feelings about the past.
- Learning to separate needs and wants.
- Creating a budget that covers needs, allows for repayment of debt, build savings, and leaves room for a few wants.
- Storing money in a safe place — perhaps in a savings account at a bank across town with no debit card or ATM access.
- Taking advantage of available resources. You can usually get access to free financial planning services from your bank. You may also need advice on negotiating with creditors to arrange feasible payback plans or legal advice on declaring bankruptcy — these services are often available for free to those with lower incomes.
- Using the envelope method — instead of using an ATM card that can make money feel unlimited, withdraw cash for budgeted expenses and place it in an envelope. When the envelope is empty, you won't be able to spend any more.
- Setting up direct deposit for your paycheck instead of receiving a paper check to avoid the temptation of cashing it on the spot.
- Maintaining close contact with your recovery sponsor in the first months after rehab, and ask them to check up on you on paydays.
- Learning to speak with friends and loved ones about your drug use triggers so they don’t inadvertently contribute to a relapse.
- Setting and keeping saving goals — perhaps by setting up automatic transfers to a separate savings account.