What happens to the family money when the addict gets sober really depends on each family. In Alcoholic Anonymous, the Wives Chapter puts the active addict situation this way:
“There was never financial security. Positions were always in jeopardy or gone. An armored car could not have brought the pay envelopes home. The checking account melted like snow in June. We sought employment ourselves as destitution faced us and our families.” p. 106, AA To Wives
The expectation with sobriety is that all of this nonsense will stop. Jobs will be found and attended. Bills will get paid. The monetary needs of the family maybe, for the first time, a top priority.
High Cost of Sobriety to Family Assets
How much family money gets spent on this depends on the damage. If a person borrowed thousands of dollars for gambling, shopping or drinking, the AA Big Book encourages them to repay all of this debt in order to stay sober.
Family Investment into Rehab Programs and Health Care
Choosing relationship over money, the Addict’s family will face big bills for treatment centers, lost work time and health care. Relief in the sobriety of the addict is real but can come with other costs.
No more money going out for drugs, alcohol, gambling, shopping etc., but what about all the money spent on therapy, rehab programs, gym memberships, and health care.
While insurance may cover some of the rehab treatment expenses, uncovered portions can be a staggering $250-$650 per day in treatment centers.
Lost Family Financial Opportunities
As the family begins to regain footing in the financial world there is often grieving over lost financial opportunities. These symptoms may continue for many years after initial sobriety as the addict works through the difficult issues.
- Lost job promotion or unable to hold a job
- Lack of education due to early use–not graduating high school or having a solid work history that would ensure a higher paying job in the future.
- A need to re-tool after sobriety to remove yourself from a high temptation job fields that might cause relapse
- Inability to focus or work because of physical or mental damage
- Lack of business and social skills due to early drug use
- Lingering legal issues that require time away from work for forced treatment or court dates
Change in the Addiction Format Drains Family Funds
Often, too often, the addict will just grow a “prettier plant” as Jeff Van Vonderen says in his series Wounded by Shame, Healed by Grace.
A “prettier plant’ as Van Vonderen calls it, is a change from one socially unacceptable addiction to a socially acceptable one. Example: $600 a month is no longer being spent on alcohol. That same $600 is now financing new dirt bikes, trailers, and gear.
This leaves the family finances in a stagnant place rather than improving. Involving the whole family in the new hobby maybe improving damaged relationships, but the spending boundaries are still planted in weak soil.
Poorly Tilled Family Gardens Do Not Produce Savings
Still rejoicing in the fact that the “evil addiction” is removed, the family begins to move on with their lives. Yet the money issues do not resolve themselves. Why? As Van Vonderen explains the behavior may have changed but the same basic human needs have not be met.
If the basic human needs are not met, then the addict still feels worthless, unlovable, and unheard. They attempt to mood alter again. This could be a relapse into previous addiction or a new “socially acceptable” addiction– sports, health foods, overwork, volunteering, joining a cause, a religion, a political movement.
These outside programs or projects give the addict personal value and a feeling of belonging that they are unable to see or feel in themselves.
The family money is absorbed quickly into these new practices without a thought. Leaving the family money situation unchanged.
Hope for the Family Finances
The Alcoholic Anonymous Big Book promises, if the addict and family choose to work the sober living program consistently:
“fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us.”
Patience. Recovery is a process. No addict hit rock bottom overnight and the shame and worthlessness that drove them to mood alter are not going away overnight either. In his book, Being Sober, Dr. Harry Haroutunian, shares:
“it takes 2-3 years to recover from the most serious biological problems brought on by the disease…”
Then swallow hard here families of addicts, this is painful to hear.
Dr. Haroutunian feels “it takes 8-10 years of sober living for emotional health to return.” p.151
After years of struggle and often great loss in possessions, jobs, homes all due to the addicts habits, the family, and the recovering addict, have to work together to look at the underlying issues that create family money decline.
Are Other Members of the Family Part of the Overspending Problem?
Overspending for many emotional reasons can become a family culture. Al-non, a group for friends and family of alcoholics, believes that each addict affects 5 people personally on a daily bases.
The family’s way of conducting itself and its finances is profoundly affected by addiction. Each member is responsible for dealing with their own hurts, habits, and hang-ups as the sobriety journey is taking place.
In part two, I give you the Celebrate Recovery Checklist for financial recovery. The other people affected by the addict may also be large contributors to the financial decline of the family.
Remeber it will get better with a little practice and a few life skills you can manage your money well!