Dealing With Addiction’s Financial Fallout

Addiction takes a tremendous toll on everyone involved — the addict, family, friends, employer and coworkers.

Beyond the anguish and heartache of having to deal with the addiction itself, the spouse, significant other or loved ones of the addict often suffer the added burden of financial difficulties as well.

Pressure to stretch rapidly diminishing family funds mounts to the point where the next unexpected bill may push things to the breaking point. When things don’t add up, how can you deal with the financial fallout from addiction?

Don’t panic

It’s a natural reaction to feel overwhelmed by crushing bills coming at you from every direction. You fear that you may not be able to hold the family together, that you may lose your home, car or possessions. You toss and turn at night worrying how you will protect your children from deprivation. Your own health — mental and physical — may suffer. How can you face your friends? How will anything ever be normal again?

The best advice from addiction experts treating families is not to panic. There is help available to you, assistance that you need to take advantage of. But first you need to know what you’re dealing with — the extent of the financial morass you’re in as a result of your loved one’s addiction.

Taking stock

There’s the cost of the addiction treatment itself and/or counselors, various types of inpatient or outpatient therapy, transportation and incidental costs. Then there’s the fact that while your loved one is undergoing treatment, he or she isn’t working and there’s no regular paycheck to take care of even normal household expenses. Depending on how long your loved one has struggled with addiction, and what type of addiction it is (alcohol, street or prescription drugs, multiple or co-occurring disorders, gambling, sex, overspending, eating, overwork), there’s the racked-up cost of the addict’s habit.

Here’s what to do:

  • Make a list of every outstanding debt. Include major recurring expenses such as the monthly mortgage and/or home equity loan or line of credit, car loan or lease payments, insurance costs (home, car, life, health and accident), credit cards (which may already have been maxed out), student or other loans, cell phones and utilities. Add in the costs for food (including food for pets), clothing, and any tuition costs for yourself or any children, and incidental expenses.
  • Next, identify which expenses can be trimmed or cut out. Do you really need a cell phone for every member of the family? Can you go to a lower level of minutes or cut out expensive features such as unlimited downloads, texting and Internet access? Sacrifices will need to be made by everyone in the family in order for you to get through the financial crisis. It’s not pretty, but it is necessary.
  • Get to the bottom line of what you absolutely have to pay out every month for basic necessities: shelter, food, and utilities. Now, you’ve got a total that you have to deal with. Somehow you need to find the money or assistance to pay for these family necessities.

Ask for help

There’s no reason why you should have to go it alone during this emergency. That’s not only unrealistic, it’s foolhardy. With all the pressure and stress you’ve been under, you’re likely not the best judge of optimal solutions — financial or otherwise. You need help. Ask for it.

  • Engage the family — Where should you find such help? You can start by having a candid discussion with your family, perhaps your parents or adult siblings. They may not know the extent of your difficulties and, while it may be painful for you to admit, your family will likely rally around you and offer assistance. Even if they’re not in a position to help you financially as much as they’d like, they can prove to be an invaluable resource as you navigate the financial waters and pull your life back together. They may help with transportation to and from family treatment, or taking the children while you are involved in negotiating repayment with creditors, getting a first, new or second job, or doing other errands.
  • Family treatment may provide assistance — Help is also available through family counseling or treatment for family members of the addict. If your loved one has such family counseling as part of his or her treatment program, by all means take the opportunity to get this assistance. Family treatment covers all aspects of dealing with the loved one’s addiction – including helping family members come to grips with the mounting financial burdens they face. The family treatment counselors may even be able to recommend financial guidance advisors. If not, you should find one on your own.
  • Secure a financial guidance counselor — Financial counselors often provide such services at low cost or free of charge. Investigate what’s available to you through federal, state or local sources. Again, the family treatment counselors can be a big help here. They know the ins and outs of the systems, where to go to get financial aid, what scholarships or loans or special repayment plans are available to help cover the costs of the addict’s treatment, for example. Even if your loved one is in outpatient treatment, use the resources available through the staff to find what you need.
  • Join a 12 step group — While they don’t offer financial assistance, the benefits of joining a 12 step support group are incalculable. There are support groups for almost every kind of addition, and most have support groups for the family, friends and others close to the addict. The members have all been through what you’re going through and can offer emotional support. Listening to how they’ve been able to pull through may give you inspiration to do something similar. Just having others who understand the financial difficulties you’ve incurred can be a tremendous help.

Turn to 12 step programs for help

  • Gam-Anon — According to its website, Gam-Anon is a “life-saving instrument for the spouse, family or close friends of compulsive gamblers.” See their About Gam-Anon page to learn how they can help. Explore the other sections of the site and find meetings near you.
  • Nar-Anon — Nar-Anon’s members are relatives and friends of those who are concerned about another’s drug problem or addiction. Adapted from the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, Nar-Anon uses Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions and Twelve Concepts. For more information about Nar-Anon, see their About Nar-Anon page.
  • Al-Anon/Alateen — For those whose life is affected by someone’s drinking (spouse, child, parent or friend). On the site’s home page appear the words: “to help them, you have to help yourself first.” Call Al-Anon/Alateen at 1-888-4AL-ANON (1-888-425-2666). Al-Anon (including Alateen for younger members) has been offering support through strength and hope for friends and families of problem drinkers. To find out more about Al-Anon/Alateen, including how it can help you and where to find a meeting, visit their information page.
  • Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) — ACA is a 12 step and 12 tradition program of men and women who grew up in alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional homes. Visit their website to find meetings, look at FAQs, and find out how ACA can help you.
  • Co-Anon Family Groups — Co-Anon Family Groups is a fellowship consisting of men and women who are husbands and wives, parents, relatives or close friends of those who are addicted to cocaine. Visit their website to learn more about Co-Anon and how it can help you, including information on the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions Co-Anon uses, do’s and don’ts, about addiction and denial, where to find meetings, obtain literature and sign up for newsletters.
  • Co-Dependents Anonymous Worldwide Fellowship — CODA’s purpose is to help its fellowship of men and women to develop healthy and loving relationships. Go to their Tools for Recovery page to learn more about how CODA may be able to assist you.
  • COSA — This is a fellowship of men and women whose lives have been affected by someone else’s compulsive sexual behavior. The site offers information about COSA, where to find meetings, helpful literature and recovery tools.
  • S-Anon International Family Groups — S-Anon is a recovery program for those who have been affected by someone else’s sexual behavior. Go to their What is S-Anon page and learn more about how participation in this 12 step group can help you.

What to expect

Going through recovery with your loved one can be a stressful time indeed. You shouldn’t expect immediate results even after your loved one returns home after completing treatment. It may take months — or even years — for the person in recovery to really solidify his or her long-term recovery plan and begin to work it successfully. That’s why it is critical that you and other family members receive ongoing counseling during and after your loved one enters an addiction treatment program.

While you don’t want to concentrate on the negative, understand that relapse is common among during early addiction recovery. By participating in family treatment or counseling, you will be better prepared to deal with your loved one’s relapse should it occur.

Making strides toward financial recovery on the part of the family will also take some time. Again, it depends on the extent to which your loved one’s addiction plunged you into financial difficulty. As with recovery in general, financial recovery is a process that you work at every day. Over time, you can be made whole again. You may not be at your previous financial strength, or you may even surpass where you once were. There are no guarantees except for one: if you do nothing, you will lose more than you can afford to. Keep your family together and do whatever it takes to rebuild your life — including your recovering loved one.

Working with your financial counselor, chip away at all the unnecessary expenses. Reduce or eliminate all credit cards. Don’t leave sums of cash around the house that the returning addict may have access to — as this will often trigger a relapse. It doesn’t matter what the addict’s drug of choice is, money means they will be able to go out and satisfy their urges — for alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc. — even if they swear they have no intention to do so. You need to remove the temptation and safeguard your family finances.

Financial counselors may also advise that you put everything in your name, or that you control all the household finances, including checking and savings accounts. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of what those recommendations may be. It’s just representative of the kinds of strategies financial guidance counselors may suggest. Your own financial circumstance and any proposed financial recovery plan will likely be very different from someone else’s. Be guided by sound financial advice from your counselor and be prepared to take the tough steps to implement your financial recovery plan.

Use your support network in the various 12 step groups that you join. You can even participate in meetings in many of the groups online or over the phone. And many of them have international meeting locations so you can get support when you travel. Remember that these are individuals who have gone through what you have — emotionally, physically, socially, and financially. Who better to understand and listen than someone who’s experienced the same setbacks – and came through them successfully.

Remain close to your family and friends during this time as well. While they may not be able to provide financial support — or, at least, to the extent that they’d like — they are your bedrock and your emotional base in a time of desperate need.

Above all, trust in the future and believe that you can — and will — again be able to thrive as a family unit, with financial stability and the self-confidence and self-esteem that such financial independence provides. It won’t always be the dark journey that you once feared. The fact that you have allies and those who love you in your corner will comfort and sustain you when you need it most.

In the tomorrow that you strive for, look on this time as a journey. You and your family are creating the future day by day. Together with your loved one in recovery — or separately as your own circumstances warrant — chart your journey to include all your hopes and dreams. One day, and it may come sooner than you think, you will be able to look back on this period of your life as a challenge that you have successfully navigated and overcome.

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