Financial Stress and Substance Abuse

financial stress
Dominic Nicosia

Written By

Dominic Nicosia

The relationship between financial stress and substance abuse exists in many different contexts. It’s a tragically ironic double-edged sword. There are dozens of different ways this association can develop, but it’s largely a cause-and-effect dynamic.

We live in a culture where we need money to survive and to feel good about ourselves. In many ways, we don’t realize how this mindset lends itself to substance abuse. It’s critical to identify the role that financial security plays in drug or alcohol use disorder.

Many of us aren’t aware of the profound role that money has played in dependence on drugs or alcohol. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that 72 percent of Americans are stressed out about money each month. Of those, 22 percent experience extreme financial stress each month.

The Chicken and the Egg

In the simplest explanations, financial stress can both lead to and be caused by substance abuse. On one hand, the stress and anxiety associated with worrying about money can lead to self-medication with several drugs. On the other hand, prolonged substance abuse can rapidly deplete savings and leave users with little money left to survive.

The irony is that people who start abusing drugs to escape from financial stress always wind up worse off. Although we tell ourselves we need these drugs, our wallets invariably wind up telling us we can’t afford them.

  • Heroin – People in the throes of heroin addiction to spend between $450-$1700 a day on heroin, according to the United Nations.
  • Cocaine – The agency also reports that the street value of cocaine is now over $450 per gram. While we commonly think of cocaine as a “rich person’s drug,” the money always dried up sooner or later.
  • Alcohol – While there are different degrees of alcohol abuse and dependency, spending too much on drinking indicates a problem. Even casual drinkers can spend over $7,800 per year on alcohol.
  • Prescription Drugs – Between opioids, benzos and other types of prescriptions, Americans spend millions of dollars per year on prescription drugs.

One of the most tragic ironies of prescription addiction is that usually causes people to lose their jobs. Without their jobs, they also lose the insurance that allows them to access the drugs legally.

On a broader note, drug and alcohol use disorder commonly leads to job loss. This, of course, exacerbates the initial financial stress.

Before and After: Avoiding Financial Stress Triggers of Substance Use Disorder

There are essentially two types of financially related triggers that can lead to substance abuse. There’s the type for people on the verge of substance abuse, and the types for those who are in recovery already and vulnerable to relapse. Both populations can take the following steps to further protect themselves:

Live Within Your Means, No Matter What They Are

While very little may be in our control while we’re getting back on our feet, our spending most certainly is. It can be the single-most difficult thing in the world to admit we can’t afford something when we’re used to a certain lifestyle. Addiction impacts people of all economic backgrounds and financial adjustments we experience must be met with proper budgeting and planning.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

We see things, we want things. We see other peoples’ things and we want more things. While ambition is healthy, beating ourselves up because we don’t have what others do is a toxic way of thinking. It can cause us to live beyond our means, exercise poor financial decisions, and make matters even worse for ourselves.

Instead of comparing ourselves or dwelling on what we don’t have, we need to first be content with what we do. If afterwards there’s still a desire for more, we should spend more time trying to honestly and naturally improve our circumstances.

Give Yourself Regular Payoffs

While sensible spending and sacrifice is key to a healthy financial state, not treating yourself might make things worse. There is a very real FOMO phenomenon that can plunge us into a more depressed state.

One of the ways to avoid this is by giving ourselves the occasional reward to recognize our sacrifices. It could be a meal out, a new piece of clothing, a record, or anything else. Regardless of the reward, this is a great way to stay motivated to keep making more progress.

Set Realistic and Attainable Goals

Whether in recovery or on the verge of substance abuse, our debts can seem like obstacles that we’ll never overcome. Taking a long-term outlook at our finances can help us set incremental goals and measure our success. Gradually, it helps us build confidence and improving our overall mental health and wellbeing.

Take Out An Emotional Loan

Sometimes the worst thing about financial stress is that we think we’re going through it alone. That our circumstances are special and we’re somehow defective for getting in such a situation.

This shame and stigma can prevent us from leaning on others and from confiding in others about our financial situation. Consider contacting a financial planner or, at the very least, a financial support group for help.

The Bottom Line

Everyone has financial stress. Even those who appear financially secure spend significant amounts of emotional energy making sure they stay that way.

You’re not alone, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. If you find yourself in need of addiction treatment, Recovery Unplugged is committed to making the process easier. We work with most major insurance companies and offer different types of payment plans to make treatment more affordable.

We want you to get the help you need without having to worry about what it’s going to cost. Part of any aftercare plan should be integrating proper financial planning strategies to avoid further money-related stress.

Let’s start doing the work together. Call us now.

Dominic Nicosia

Dominic Nicosia

Dominic Nicosia, a seasoned content writer, brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the realm of healthcare writing, particularly in the addiction care field. Holding a Bachelor's Degree in Communications and Professional Writing from the University of the Arts Philadelphia (2009), Dominic has carved a niche for himself with over seven years of specialized writing experience in addiction care.

As the Senior Content Writer at Recovery Unplugged, Dominic is entrusted with the pivotal role of curating and overseeing the online blog, ensuring its alignment with the highest standards of accuracy, relevance, and trustworthiness. His responsibilities extend beyond the blog, encompassing all written communications within the Marketing domain. From articles and thought leadership pieces to web content, Dominic's penmanship is evident in every written facet of Recovery Unplugged.

Dominic's credibility is further enhanced by his contributions to esteemed publications like Austin Fit Magazine, where he delves into critical topics such as drug use, addiction, recovery, and mental health. His writings not only reflect his profound understanding of the subject matter but also resonate with readers, offering insights and guidance. Outside the professional sphere, Dominic's passion for music is evident. He has been writing and playing music for years, showcasing his versatility and depth as a writer and artist.

Dominic Nicosia stands as a beacon of expertise and credibility in the healthcare writing community. With a deep understanding of his subject matter and a commitment to accuracy, he consistently delivers content that is both informative and reliable, meeting the highest standards of quality and trustworthiness in the industry.


  • Proven track record in managing and enhancing online blogs, articles, and thought leadership pieces.
  • Adept at blending his passion for music with his writing, offering a unique perspective on topics.


  • Bachelor's Degree in Communications and Professional Writing from the University of the Arts Philadelphia (2009).
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