Financial Stress and Substance Abuse

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 were stressed out about money each month in 2015. Of those, 22 percent experienced extreme financial stress in the past 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 – The price of heroin varies greatly depending on the country. A heroin addict can go through 10 bags of heroin per day, each costing $20. That is $200 per day or $6,000 per month.
  • Cocaine – The street value of cocaine is now about $120 per gram in the USA in 2020. 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. An alcohol drinker who consumes, on average, 3 drinks per day can spend about $7,800 per year on alcohol.
  • Prescription Drugs – Between opioids, benzos, and other types of prescriptions, Americans spent 378 billion dollars per year on prescription drugs in 2021.

One of the most tragic ironies of prescription addiction is that it 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 the 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 people’s 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, make poor financial decisions, and make matters worse for ourselves.

Instead of comparing ourselves or dwelling on what we don’t have, we must first be content with what we do. If afterward, 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 are keys to a healthy financial state, not treating yourself might make things worse. There is a very real FOMO (Fear-of-missing-out) 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, 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 look at our finances can help us set incremental goals and measure our success. Gradually, it helps us build confidence and improve 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 that we’re somehow defective for getting into such a situation.

This shame and stigma can prevent us from leaning on others and 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 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.

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