Addiction and Personal Finance

I’ve watched one of my childhood heroes throw his life away to a methamphetamine addiction. I remember him surging with vitality, going to school full time while simultaneously working at a full time job to make ends meet. He had the future open to him – college scholarships, a killer work ethic, and a quiet mannerism that made people who barely knew him trust that he could get the job done. Five years later, he was broke and jobless and reduced to making meth in an abandoned shack.

Another person I know lost his home, all three of his cars, his wife, and his children due to an addiction to gambling. He’d constantly bet more and more and more, believing he could turn around the losses with just one big score, until he had lost everything he had ever valued in his life, spending the night attempting to sleep in a casino bathroom.

These two people lost everything they had to their addictions. They once had all of the assets and opportunities that could be afforded to them, but in each case an addiction to something drug them down.

Any addiction is a danger to long term personal finance stability. If you have a compulsion to commit a non-vital behavior, particularly one that requires you to lay out money, it’s a massive risk, not only to you, but to everyone around you.

Addiction counseling is something I confess to knowing very little about, so I spent some time scouring for resources both online and off. Below are some of the tactic summaries I’ve discovered (while I’m providing links to online sources, there are many similar offline resources available at the local public library).

If You’re Addicted

The best summary of dealing with one’s own addictions came from a nonprofit site dealing with teenage addiction sponsored by the Nemours Foundation. The site lists countless signs to self-identify an addiction, then offers some excellent solutions that really sum up many of the tips out there – the tips focus on drug addiction, but the principles apply to all addictions:

Tell your friends about your decision to stop using drugs. Your true friends will respect your decision. This might mean that you need to find a new group of friends who will be 100% supportive. Unless everyone decides to kick their drug habit at once, you probably won’t be able to hang out with the friends you did drugs with before.

Ask your friends or family to be available when you need them. You may need to call someone in the middle of the night just to talk. If you’re going through a tough time, don’t try to handle things on your own — accept the help your family and friends offer.

Accept invitations only to events that you know won’t involve drugs or alcohol. Going to the movies is probably safe, but you may want to skip a Friday night party until you’re feeling more secure. Plan activities that don’t involve drugs. Go to the movies, try bowling, or take an art class with a friend.

Have a plan about what you’ll do if you find yourself in a place with drugs or alcohol. The temptation will be there sometimes, but if you know how you’re going to handle it, you’ll be OK. Establish a plan with your parents or siblings so that if you call home using a code, they’ll know that your call is a signal you need a ride out of there.

Remind yourself that having an addiction doesn’t make you bad or weak. If you fall back into old patterns (backslide) a bit, talk to an adult as soon as possible. There’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it’s important to get help soon so that all of the hard work you put into your recovery is not lost.

The real key here is to find a support network of people who can help you through this. Ask for help, even if it’s hard to admit your weakness. The truth is that the people who care about you most will be relieved that you’re realizing your problems and will be extremely happy to help you with your challenges.

If You Care for Someone Who’s Addicted

The advice here seems much more varied. Some sources seem to advocate an intervention and confrontation, while others encourage not confronting the addict.

The one thing that the sources do agree on is that you shouldn’t ignore it. Universally, it seems to at least be a good idea (though some say it’s not the best route) to tell the person that you’re worried about them, you care about them, and any time they want to talk, they can talk to you. You don’t have to even directly mention the issue, just let that person know very clearly that you are available to them if they need you.

At the same time, it also seems to be universal that you don’t support their addiction in any way. Cut off their financial supplies in any way you have to, but provide them with alternatives that take them away from the addiction. For example, if they come to you and ask for cash to get some food, say no but invite them to come over and eat with you.

No matter your position, addiction can be a very serious issue. It can drain your finances and everything else you hold of value in your life. If you’re recognizing a problem of your own, or know of a problem that someone else has, don’t ignore it. Address it now, for your future’s sake.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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