How Do I Handle Debt in Early Recovery?

The fallout from addictive disorders and years of continuous substance misuse can involve more than emotional damage. Many addiction recovery patients will find themselves situated with significant financial debt once completing treatment. This can be in part to expensive addiction recovery treatment but mainly due to years of neglect and spending beyond their means due to their substance misuse. Addictive behaviors are costly, and the strong urges incite those misusing substances to throw caution to the wind when it comes to financial matters.


Since a fair amount of patients will struggle with some form of debt, we feel that it is essential to address financial worries and potential debt before leaving treatment. Clients should begin developing a plan or rough outline on how they may handle any financial issues when they re-enter their independent, sober lives. This may sound stressful at first, but trust us when we tell you that being surprised in the outside world with financial burdens without the support and guidance of a treatment program can be much worse when it comes to maintaining long-term sobriety. Patients should be prepared for these financial issues mentally and emotionally as finances can put unnecessary strain on them in early sobriety. 


Spending on a Budget in Addiction Recovery


Addiction recovery patients may ask how they can prepare for financial matters in the outside world while still actively in treatment. Speaking with an exit or financial counselor before being discharged from a treatment facility or completing an outpatient service can help patients plan their discharge particulars, such as securing living situations and preparation for handling budgeting and other financial matters. Having a complete grasp on many aspects of adult living, such as weekly or monthly budgeting, may have been severely delayed due to substance misuse. Taking the time to learn how to budget is beneficial for most clients.


Budgeting is basic enough as it consists primarily of a list that will include expenditures versus income. Maintaining that budget may seem less of a priority as patients begin to feel more comfortable in their sobriety. However, we would recommend patients be vigilant in budgeting as not only does it ensure bills are paid, and money is in the bank, but it also serves to alleviate much of the pressures of what would be an otherwise unknown financial situation. This worry of the unknown can itself become a burden to long-term sobriety. Finances are one of the top stressors for all people, whether they have an addictive disorder or not. Knowing what money is coming in and going out can bring relief to any stress about financial matters. It is better to know rather than to avoid.


Other financial issues may also pose a threat to long-term sobriety other than debt. An excess of money can often be an unexpected trigger for many in addiction recovery. Increased funds present the opportunity to purchase drugs or alcohol and tend to influence those in addiction recovery to let their guard down. Things are going well, and those in recovery begin to shift to a more lax view on recovery efforts, which might end up on the backburner. 


To avoid these triggering scenarios, there are financial systems in place like NextCard that put safeguards on accounts to limit spending and not allow purchases at specific locations like liquor stores. The card also does not allow cashback which virtually eliminates most of the loopholes that will enable those in recovery to purchase illicit substances. The NextCard is similar to giving those in addiction recovery an allowance. This ensures patients have access to money, with some of it being saved and none of it being used for substance use. We would only recommend using NextCard if an addiction recovery patient has relapsed because of increased access to money, especially since the card charges close to $15 a month for a service fee. However, if patients find themselves struggling with finances in direct relation to maintaining sobriety, consider this.


Cut Costs with Cheaper Alternatives


Finding cheaper alternatives to full-priced grocery items will also help individuals leaving rehab. Purchasing off-brands and clipping coupons may seem cheap, but the savings will speak for themselves. A variety of alternative grocery stores now, such as Aldi, can cut grocery bills anywhere from around 10-20%. 


Many individuals in addiction recovery may also be smokers, which is an expensive daily bill, no matter where they live in the country. The cheapest and most health-conscious way to save when it comes to cigarettes would be to quit. We would recommend that patients handle one vice or addictive behavior at a time. However, smokers can cut their cigarette budget by almost three-fourths by purchasing a simple cigarette injector (easily found on Amazon for around $20), filter tubes, and a bag of tobacco. If cigarettes are costing you upwards of 8-10 dollars a day, which adds up to just under $300 a month, these home cigarette purchases can bring that cost down to $20-30 dollars of month. The injector also avoids the hassle of learning to roll a cigarette. The process is simple, and individuals can make a day’s pack of cigarettes in less than 5 minutes. These types of cost-cutting exercises can quickly relieve some of the financial pressures after leaving treatment.


Don’t Avoid Bill Collectors or Financial Burdens


Addiction recovery patients probably will not be able to pay off their debt immediately after leaving treatment. This is to be expected, and those in recovery will have enough on their plate with re-entering their independent lives to even attempt to tackle financial issues at first. However, avoiding financial burdens and bill collectors only makes things worse. Even if avoidance does not make the financial issue worse, it might make the recovery effort worse. Having the burden of financial avoidance adds an unnecessary stressor that could potentially trigger or put enough pressure on you to trigger a relapse. 


Many bill collectors will work out a deal, and if it is student loans that are owed, the education system has a forgiveness program where individuals pay as little as they want for a while to absolve them of defaulting on their loans. This does not eliminate the loan cost, but it does offer debt forgiveness as long as payments are made on time. Individuals can pay as little as $1 a month as long they make on-time payments, and their defaulting on the said loan will be scrubbed from their credit record. For student loan forgiveness, individuals can follow this link to find out more information.


Depending on your financial situation, you may want to retain the services of a financial advisor later on in your recovery after a year out with continuous sobriety. They will be more attuned to direct you on the right path to finding financial security. Many of these advisors are also experienced with addiction recovery clients, which can help. For some, this may mean declaring bankruptcy, while others may be able to work out payment plans. Debt collectors will usually work with you as long as payments are being made, even if in small amounts, since ultimately, this still means they will earn their money back. Having a financial counselor at your disposal, though, may prove beneficial as some debt collectors will respond better to the authority of an experienced financial advisor.


A Quick Guide To the Order in Which Financial Matters Should Be Handled


  1. Get the Essentials of Survival Finances in Order: Food, rent, utilities, etc.
  2. Budget: Income vs. expenditures
  3. Contact Debt Collectors/Explore Forgiveness Programs: This does not necessarily mean pay them off, but individuals should get the burden of unknown debt off their back.
  4. Maintain Budget: Throughout early and later stages of recovery.
  5. Contact Financial Advisor: If managing finances are beyond an individual’s grasp, they should seek help from a financial advisor.


Ongoing substance misuse due to an addictive disorder with co-occurring mental health issues can leave damaged relationships as well as financially strained obligations in its wake. If you or someone you love is struggling with the financial and emotional burdens of an addictive disorder, then Choice House has dual-diagnosis treatment services that can help. Our services include 90-day inpatient treatment, an intensive outpatient program, as well as the chance to take up residency at our sober living campus. Located in the Boulder County area of Colorado, our facilities are situated just a short drive from the bustling city of Louisville, which can be ideal for both participants in our outpatient program and those residing at our sober living campus. Patients are afforded the chance to better transition back into their independent, sober lives while still maintaining employment and keeping active social lives. This uniquely positions our patients to begin to handle any financial or emotional burdens of the past substance misuse while still under the guidance and supervision of Choice House staff. For more information regarding Choice House facilities or treatment services, please give us a call at (720) 577-4422.


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