Your Finances: The Overlooked Victim of Addiction

The challenge of getting clean and sober is nothing to downplay, since starting life anew on the road to recovery can be truly taxing. In particular, the financial damage of drug abuse is an extremely serious, but often forgotten, consequence of battling an addiction.

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The cost of addiction moves at different paces depending on the drug, but methamphetamine, crack cocaine, prescription drugs, alcohol and heroin are the top offenders in terms of creating large debt holes very quickly. A report prepared for the White House in 2014 investigated what drug abusers in the United States actually spend on illicit narcotics every year. The researchers found that drug addicts spent about $100 billion each year over the past decade on illicit drugs.

Notably, from 2000 to 2010, the amount of money people spent on cocaine decreased by 50% from $55 billion to $28 billion. This downward trend reflects the steep decreases in the cocaine supply after 2006 — from about 300 pure metric tons in 2000 to approximately 150 pure metric tons in 2010.

heroin expenditure statistic

Meanwhile, heroin expenditure between 2000 and 2010 grew from $23.4 billion to $27 billion. Methamphetamine expenditures for the same time period jumped from $8 billion to $13 billion.

Perhaps most shocking of all is the amount of money taxpayers had to shell out to pay for the societal costs associated with drug abuse. It is dramatically higher than the amount spent by drug users on these substances. Tax payers footed a bill of more than $193 billion in lost productivity, healthcare and criminal justice costs for illicit drug users in just 2007 alone.


Sobriety can certainly be achieved and sustained even during times of financial hardship, although it is certainly not a pain-free process. It requires a lot of strength, courage and guidance.

When you emerge from your addiction and begin your sober life, you have much to be proud of. You’ve overcome one of the most trying tests any individual could face in life. But, as the dust settles and you have to rejoin the life you put on pause, you might find a few things in shambles. Often, addicts find themselves in dire financial straits, which can affect a number of areas in their lives.

Personal Relationships

Long-term use of drugs can affect your ability to stand on your own two feet, even after you’ve reached sobriety. According to the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA), such long-term use can affect the following functions:

  • Learning
  • Judgment
  • Decision-making
  • Stress
  • Memory
  • Behavior

Chapter 2 of the “Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy” publication released by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a sub-agency within the US Department of Health and Human Services, notes that neighbors, friends and even coworkers can be victims of your substance abuse because addiction can make people unreliable. With respect to finances, addicts often turn to friends for money or help in other ways. Meanwhile, coworkers might be called on to pick up the slack at your job once your productivity inevitably decreases to near-zero. This, SAMHSA says, can promote resentment.

substance abuse and divorce statistic

Nearly all addicts eventually turn to their friends and families for money. Sometimes, this leads to stealing. It should come as no surprise that, when all is said and done, addicts usually end up owing a lot of money to a lot of places and people. Meanwhile, drug abuse is an especially grave stressor in intimate relationships. 7.3% of marriages that end in divorce do so because of substance abuse.

Financial Despair

Addiction is often associated with poverty, and there’s definitely a reason why. Many addictive behaviors start in the pursuit of escapism and pleasure seeking. In other words, individuals who struggle with their finances are often drawn to drugs because it helps them forget about their real problems. We all know that being high provides instant satisfaction. For many, the satisfaction associated with being high is one of the very few times when addicts feel gratification of any kind.

The relationship, however, is an inverse one. At worst, addictions can often lead to financial disaster and, at best, addiction can make maintaining healthy finances next to impossible.

Unsurprisingly, drug habits typically become more expensive over time. This can be due to one or a combination of the following things: increased usage to try and reach the same level of satisfaction, losing a job or having to sell everything to generate cash to fuel the addiction. Once this happens and these sources are exhausted, abusers tend to take advantage of any auxiliary financing opportunities. These cash opportunities can include home equity loans, cash advances from credit cards or loans taken against a motor vehicle. Next thing you know, bank accounts are overdrawn.

prison and drug abuse statistic

Another reason drug abusers may find themselves in debt is because many addicts end up behind bars for alcohol and drug-related crimes. A report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that 53% of inmates in state prisons and 45% of inmates in federal prisons were abusing or dependent on drugs in the year leading up to their entry into prison. Obviously, during imprisonment, addicts aren’t able to earn any money, and so outside debts continue to grow and worsen. In some cases, a judge may rule that the addict pays restitution to any victims related to their drug abuse. Such penalties can top thousands of dollars.

Meanwhile, financial burdens for drug abusers increase due to medical costs. Health problems associated with addiction, and especially those that necessitate emergency department visits, can be extremely costly. This is doubly true for the uninsured.

Loss of Income and Productivity

People addicted to drugs or alcohol often experience issues in the workplace that ultimately put their jobs at risk or at least lower their overall value as employees. Generally, they also lack skills, education, training and opportunities. Addicts often routinely take sick days or other unscheduled absences, which usually lowers the chance that they’d ever achieve a promotion or raise. Over the course of a lifetime, the income lost from lack of productivity at work and a lack of education can add up to be a significant amount of money.

relationships abstinent from substance abuse

All of this can create feelings of negativity and doubt about self-worth. It’s important for you to not give in to any feelings of peer pressure you may experience while vulnerable. The sad reality is that people may fear they’ll lose their friends and associates if they actively avoid people that they know to be users. It is of paramount importance to find and nurture relationships and friendships with people who are entirely abstinent from such substances.

You’ll have to work hard to increase your self-esteem and find new ways to meet people that can help you maintain a high self-esteem. Often, cognitive training and communication skills training can serve as vehicles to help you to manage peer relationships.

Bad Credit

Gone are the days when your credit score mostly just determined whether or not you were eligible to buy something with borrowed money at a low interest rate. People always point out not being able to get a mortgage with a bad credit score, but there are some other unexpected ways your score can affect your life, including:

  • Personal relationships. Financial woes comprise some of the leading causes of stress in relationships. This can lead to an ending of the relationship and/or the development of mental and physical problems associated with stress.
  • Renting. Many landlords run background checks on tenants, which almost always includes a credit check to determine the likelihood that you’ll make monthly rent payments on time each month.
  • Getting a job. For certain jobs, your credit score may be used as a determining factor in measuring how well you manage money. In finance, for example, the role intrinsically involves handling money. An employer may assume you’d handle the company’s money incorrectly, as unfair as that may be.

bad credit premiums statistic

  • Car insurance. Car insurance agencies can rifle through your credit report to determine the likelihood that you’ll file a claim. According to Consumer Reports, the difference between the premiums paid by drivers with “excellent” credit and drivers with bad credit can be as much as $2,000 or more.

To get this all straightened out, you’re definitely going to need to have all the facts about your credit health. Everyone is entitled to a free copy of the credit report each year. Take advantage of this resource and check your credit score. Credit card debt should absolutely be financial priority number one.


The state of finances is a major stressor for virtually everyone, and by many measures it is especially burdensome for recovering addicts. Properly managing stress is absolutely crucial in order to prevent relapse. To help yourself through it, you need to remain aware of your stress levels. According to the American Psychological Association, the following are warning signs that you need to take extra care of your body:

  • Headaches, muscle tension, neck or back pain
  • Nausea or a generally upset stomach
  • Dry mouth
  • Sharp chest pains accompanied by a rapid heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite, or stress eating “comfort foods” like grilled cheese or candy
  • Higher susceptibility to catching colds
  • Inability to concentrate or otherwise focus on anything
  • Memory problems or forgetfulness
  • Feeling fidgety
  • Irritability
  • Having a short fuse or temper
  • Anxiety

stress causes drug relapse

Recognizing these symptoms may help you recognize stress before it becomes exacerbated. According to NIDA, experiencing high levels of stress is the top cause for drug relapse. There are a number of very practical ways to manage stress. Try employing these strategies whenever you begin to feel uneasy:

  • Talk through your frustrations. Keeping frustration and stress only works to compound the issue. Find someone you trust, even a counselor, who you can vent your frustrations to instead of possibly turning to drugs.
  • Identify potential stressors ahead of time. These stressors usually include daily living tasks or an event that triggers a sense of frustration, anger, uneasiness, anxiety, fatigue or loneliness.
  • Get enough sleep. There’s a reason why virtually all people are advised to get the recommended amount of sleep per night.
  • Find your favorite stress-lowering activity. Many people find jogging to be therapeutic, as well as yoga, knitting or completing a puzzle.
  • Take a deep breath. It might sound clichéd, but sometimes all you need is a good old-fashioned deep breath to center yourself.

harsh criticism not productive

  • Maintain mindfulness. It’s important that you make a conscious decision to not be so hard on yourself during recovery. Don’t judge yourself when you have feelings and cravings. Accept yourself for who you are and just move on with your day. Harsh self-criticism is neither necessary nor productive.
  • Physically take care of yourself. Exercise. Eat well. Keeping your body in good physical shape has very positive effects on your mental and emotional states.

Don’t Lose Faith

Even for many recovering addicts, managing money is extremely difficult. By nature of their disease, addicts are accustomed to instant satisfaction. During and after recovery, it is, unfortunately, not uncommon for addicts to displace that need for satisfaction from substances to possessions, which can signal the beginning of poor spending habits. Filling a newfound hole with too many worldly possessions can cause a completely different kind of ruin.

Knowing how to recover financially from addiction is a crucial strategy in helping to maintain sobriety. The overwhelming feeling of stress associated with impending financial burden can challenge even the strongest person’s commitment to sobriety.

The mountain may seem insurmountable, but there are decisive ways you can start to get your finances on track.

ways to get finances on track

  1. Take an honest inventory of your outstanding debt. Don’t forget to include the significant recurring expenses such as a monthly mortgage, a home equity loan or line of credit, a car loan or lease payments, all insurance including home, car, life and health, credit cards (regardless of whether or not they’re maxed out), student loans, miscellaneous loans, cell phone bills and home utilities (including electric, internet and cable). Then, add in food costs for you and your dependents (including pets), tuition payments, and any other anticipated incidental expenses.
  2. Decide which of your expenses can be removed from your list of financial obligations. Ideas for smart places to cut include unnecessary cellphone add-ons like unlimited data or texting. You can also decide how important it really is for you to have cable in your home. Sacrifices are, by definition, unpleasant and annoying. If you keep your eye on the prize, which is financial freedom, it should be easy to remember that it will all be worth it.
  3. Calculate the absolute bottom line of what you definitely have to shell out each month for basic necessities, including shelter, food and utilities. With this step, honesty is the best policy. Be honest with yourself and write down everything you spend each day. Once you’ve done that, it will be easier to manage the rest of your spending and overall life.
  4. If you’re afraid that you may use your money to buy substances during a moment of weakness, you should entrust your money to someone close to you. This creates a system of accountability. You’d have to explain the reason behind why you want or need money at any given time. As another option, you can deposit your money into a bank account that doesn’t come with an ATM card. You’d be less likely to give in to impulses if you had to physically go to the bank and request access to your funds.
  5. In the most extreme circumstances, filing for bankruptcy can help to buy time and space to pay down debts. Most addiction experts would probably agree, however, that such a decision should be made if the recovering addict is simultaneously attending support groups and receiving treatment to help support continued sobriety. It’s also important to note that not all debts are forgiven under bankruptcy. Just remember that child support and alimony never go away.
  6. Perhaps most importantly, when you’ve managed to pay off a debt, you need to use the freed money to apply to the next debt in line. You will now be able to apply this money toward debts where you had previously been paying just the minimum. Continue this snowballing process as you keep paying off debts. You’ll be free before you know it.

Establish a Savings

Although paying down current debt is highly important, it is equally critical to start rebuilding a savings. It is not uncommon for drug addicts to completely blow through their savings in order to fuel their habit. Often, this just creates yet another obstacle on the road to recovery.

emergency income

A 2015 poll from Pew Charitable Trusts revealed that more than 50% of Americans have less than one months’ worth of income at their disposal in the event of an emergency. That’s an extremely alarming number when considering that most financial advisors would say people should have three to six months of income in a savings nest. An emergency fund is important in case of job loss, unforeseen medical emergency or essential home repair.

Regenerating your lost savings is an important step in securing your future, including retirement. Here are a few easy ways to start saving:

  • Cut down on how much you spend on entertainment.
  • Drive an older car. Newer cars tend to depreciate in value by 25-40% during the first two years of ownership.
  • Shop smarter at the grocery store. Don’t pay more for convenience when you can eat cheaper and healthier by buying ingredients. Additionally, avoid purchasing bottled water. It’s wasteful and harmful for the environment.
  • Save money by making sure your household energy consumption stays in check. Unplugging your appliances when you aren’t using them helps to cut down on the electricity bill.
  • Arrange to deposit a portion of your paycheck into a savings account. You’re much more likely to stick to a savings plan if it happens automatically.

Top priority should be to establish an emergency fund. After that, start applying your savings toward your retirement or other personal goals that are important to you.

You’ve Reached a Crossroads … Choose Your Path

Recovery is undeniably tough, and despite your hard-won gains, there’s still a wide swath of ground to cover as you begin your life of sobriety. The good news is that no one ever said you have to go it alone. With individual counseling and therapy at 12 Keys Rehab, experienced staff who are ready to help you succeed will ensure you are completely prepared to communicate and set boundaries with yourself as well as others as you continue on your path to recovery.

aftercare program goal

The expressed goal of 12 Keys’ aftercare program is to help recovering alcoholics and addicts build supportive relationships with others who have had similar life experiences. Those with experience living soberly have much to offer in the way of sound advice on maintaining the clean lifestyle. The staff at 12 Keys Rehab, many of whom are former addicts, are available 24 hours per day seven days per week to help you conquer any barriers that may arise on your path to sustained sobriety.

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Contacting 12 Keys Rehab is your first step to regaining control when you think you’ve lost it again.

The Addiction Blog