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The Correlation Between Money and Addiction for Young Recovering Alcoholics/Addicts

The 16th President of the United States once said, “our actions must speak so loud that people can not hear our words.”  Abraham Lincoln’s words held truth in the 1800’s, but the message transcends time and it is critical when we look at our loved ones struggling with alcohol and drug addition.  Particularly, when we consider the monetary behaviors among young alcoholics and addicts, actions always speak louder than words.  Money and addiction go hand-in-hand and being mindful of a young person’s spending habits can be a solid indicator of their current state.

Active Addiction- The Proof is in the Pudding with Money and Addiction

When observing a young person in active addiction, the writing is usually on the wall.  For example, if your loved one disappears for a short time and constantly returns only to ask for money to pay for food and bills, red flags should be raised.  If they are seemingly unable to maintain financial independence for an extended period of time, their addiction is in the driver seat and making life unmanageable.  

It’s important to step back and look at the big picture.  How much money is your loved one making? What are their typical monthly expenses?  How much money should be left over when all debts are paid? Money and addiction typically work against each other.  As someone is struggling with addiction, and money is being used daily to feed the disease, there is a strong possibility that bills will not be paid and financial responsibilities will not be met.  

Let’s use an example.  Let’s say your loved one is a young adult male that is living at home- so his monthly expenses should be limited.  He is working a minimum wage job five days per week. Parents will often say that their son is unable to save any money and seems to always be broke.  Could he possibly be abusing drugs or alcohol? Parents, rightfully so to quickly defend their child, will suggest that he is broke only because he is making minimum wage.  So, what type of expenses does your son have?  Well, the parents respond, we are paying for his phone bill, food, housing, car insurance, and gasoline.  Let’s do some simple math. If a young man is making minimum wage, with 99% of his expenses covered by his parents, but can never has any money, he either has a passion for really expensive clothing, or he may have a problem with drugs and alcohol.  

What should the family do?  Typically, the family should ask their son to leave and cut them off financially.  The young man would be forced to use his income to pay bills and other expenditures, and learn to live an independent life.  If he continues to live at home, with no financial responsibilities, all excess funds will sink him deeper and deeper into addiction.  

Recovery- Accountability and Boundaries

For the best chance at long-term success, a young person in recovery must learn to take full responsibility for themselves and their actions- which includes their finances.  As an individual learns to live a sober and independent life, financial help from the family can be a valuable support pillar. But families that continue to hand out money over and over again, even once their loved gets sober, can be doing more harm than good.  So how do you draw a healthy boundary?  You can revisit some of the previous questions above as a framework- how much money are they making, what sort of expenses do they have, etc.  Let’s look at another example.

A young man has gotten sober and is doing well in early recovery.  His family is beyond excited to have their son back in their lives and have a strong desire to help him continue to get back on his feet.  Basedaddiction and money budget  on his income and monthly expenses, it is clear that he has the ability to live financially dependent. It is undeniable that this is a scary step for any young man in recovery, but it also builds a great sense of power, dignity, and self-respect.   The family insists that they will pay the rent and utilities for his new apartment so he can consistently put large sums of money away in a savings account. Sounds good in theory. But how could this be problematic?

Unfortunately, relapse can be part of the recovery process.  Accruing a large savings account early in recovery, coupled with a relapse, can be a recipe for disaster.  It is important to remember that it is okay, and often beneficial, for a young adult to live paycheck-to-paycheck as they learn to live independently.  Having limited funds may also encourage the individual to further their education or seek improved employment- all important aspects of building self-esteem in recovery.

So, how can the family help?  It is imperative that a young person in recovery learn to live independently, spend money on their own, and manage a budget.  When it comes to money and addiction, a family can help by contributing to long-term investments for their loved one, as opposed to monthly payments for rent and expenses.  A Roth IRA is a great place to start (and you would not even need to tell them about it). Over a twenty-year period of regular installments, a loved one would accrue a tremendous amount of wealth towards their retirement – at that point they would actually be grateful for your help instead of entitled for it. It is a great tool to help the alcoholic/addict see long term potential and rewards.

If you or a loved one is struggling with money and addiction or someone you know needs help getting into addiction treatment please reach out for help.