In early recovery, you normally hear about managing mental, emotional, and even spiritual growth. But one thing we don’t hear enough about is money management. This is also very vital to a successful recovery. Many addicts and alcoholics can easily spend their entire life savings fueling their addiction until they find themselves homeless and in extreme debt. As soon as addicts have money, they spend it on drugs and/or alcohol, so getting these money management skills back in early recovery is extremely important.
Money as a Relapse Trigger
Money management is a skill that many addicts and alcoholics lost during their active addiction and is also an important life skill they normally don’t think as being an important skill to relearn. Poor money management may not seem like a relapse trigger, but poor money management leads to debt and stress, and stress can lead to a relapse.
The stress of debt can give a person a feeling of hopelessness as though they aren’t able to change their situation, even after taking away the drugs and alcohol. Often times, this will cause someone to lead back into a life of using to cope with the feelings of hopelessness. Learning money management techniques can easily help someone in early recovery avoid relapse and turn the feelings of desperation into a feeling of hope in life again.
Trading One Addiction for Another
It’s important to note that, in early recovery, once the drugs and alcohol are out of your system and you start to be functioning members of society again, it is common to start looking for other ways to fill the void that you once filled with these mind-altering substances. In many instances, this comes in the form of money and spending.
Addicts and alcoholics search for other ways to feel that high without using drugs and alcohol and reckless spending can occur. Often times, the money will be spent on things that are wanted rather than needed. This is because addiction chemically rewires your brain to associate other habit-forming activities with pleasure like once done with substances. This, scientifically, is known as the reward pathway.
According to NIDA:
One pathway important to understanding the effects of drugs on the brain is called the reward pathway. The reward pathway involves several parts of the brain: the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the nucleus accumbens, and the prefrontal cortex. When activated by a rewarding stimulus (e.g., food, water, sex), information travels from the VTA to the nucleus accumbens and then up to the prefrontal cortex.
To simplify, this electrical pathway in the brain sends information via the neurons, releasing dopamine, which controls the brains’ reward and pleasure centers. At one point in your life, this was done with the use of drugs and alcohol, and it is very easy for addicts and alcoholics to replace them with something like spending money to produce a similar feeling.
Tips for Managing Your Money
So now that we understand money management in early recovery is important and the risks associated with not learning this important skill, how do you go about managing your money, and possibly debt?
- In early recovery, sometimes it can be helpful for recovering addicts from having help with their money, especially if money was triggering to them in the past. A person might be advised to give their money to a person of trust as they slowly grant more financial responsibility until money management techniques have been learned.
- Assess your debts, if you have any, and pay down past debts. This can include debts like overdrawn bank accounts or loans, etc. by setting up payment plans. Be sure to avoid, during this process, reminiscing on the negative feelings you have about your past.
- Create a budget that covers your needs, including the cost of living, repayment of the debt, and building savings. Make sure, during this process, to know the difference between wants and needs.
- Create a bank account to avoid having cash lying around. Not only can having a lot of cash on hand be a safety concern, but a bank account also helps you manage exactly how much money you have at all times. Some banks also provide financial services that can be used to your advantage.
- If possible, set up a direct deposit, so the temptation of cashing your check on the spot is eliminated.
- Set up a savings account. You can even set up an automatic transfer into a savings account. The best way to not tap into a savings account and spend it is by pretending that money doesn’t even exist once it has gone into a savings account.
- Set attainable financial goals for your past debts and your future ambitions and stay on track to reach them.
- Reach out to someone when you begin to feel triggered; that way, you can voice how you’re feeling and why. It also brings a sense of accountability to the situation.
Money management is a vitally important skill to have in recovery and can be relearned, with a little help. Our addiction professionals at Recreate Life Counseling can help you learn the necessary skills to be a functional member of society again.
We believe that by helping you recreate yourselves and your lives, you can become much more likely to achieve and stay in recovery. Our programs are designed to meet the needs of each person so that the vision of your life can become a reality. Now is the time to change your life, let us help you do it.