Personal Finance for People in Recovery From Substance Use Disorder
If you find yourself with an addiction and are now working through your recovery, you’re not alone. In a national survey from the United States Surgeon General, 1 in 10 adults say they once had a problem with drugs or alcohol but no longer do.
Just like the diverse nature of those it affects, addiction can take multiple forms. In 2018, more than 19 million people aged 18 years or older had a substance use disorder, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Many Americans struggle with addictions related to alcohol, drugs or both.
Addiction can affect people of all backgrounds. It can strain your health and wellness, including your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and financial health. While addiction may have disrupted your efforts toward financial wellbeing, you can be successful at building and strengthening your finances.
The Annual Cost of Substance Addiction
While it can be hard to measure the emotional impact of drug and alcohol addiction, the economic cost of addiction to the country adds up to $740 billion annually. This includes the costs in related crime, lost work productivity and health care, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
COST OF ADDICTION IN THE U.S.
For people who have a substance use disorder, the costs can make an immediate and dramatic impact on their lives. Using alcohol as an example, if you drank heavily every night (an average of 4 drinks a night) at an average cost of $3 a drink, you’d spend more than $4,300 a year. That’s the cost of a used car, and after five years of this behavior, it can be the cost of a new car. The use of other illicit drugs could cost double that, with a gram of cocaine averaging $150 a gram in the U.S., according to the 2018 National Drug Assessment. Heroin is the most expensive at more than $900 a gram. Some drug-related habits can hit more than $10,000 a year.
COST OF DRINKING AT $3 A DRINK
Amount of Drinks per Week
Cost Per Week
Cost Per Month
Cost Per Year
How Addiction Impacts Finances
While most people have set financial commitments, people with a substance use disorder may put their substance use ahead of living expenses and other financial responsibilities. A short-term need to fulfill a habit can take higher precedence than the long-term obligations of loan payments and bills. This choice, repeated regularly, can have significant financial impacts.
Beyond the expense of the addiction itself, other financial effects of substance use include:
Even one missed mortgage payment can lower your credit score, but if you miss several months in a row, you could face foreclosure. Mortgage servicers cannot file for foreclosure until the borrower is more than 120 days delinquent. If you’re behind on payments, it’s essential to know your rights.
If you are late paying your rent, you'll likely incur late fees. These quickly add to your monthly expenses, making it hard to pay additional bills. If you stop paying rent or otherwise break your lease, you can expect to be evicted in a process that can take 30–60 days.
Missed Car Payment
Similar to missing home payments, lenders can repossess your car if you stop paying. Many lenders will allow you to defer a payment 30 days but will eventually repossess your vehicle and sell it at auction. You may even be expected to continue making payments for a car you no longer have.
The consequences of addiction extend beyond personal repercussions and may also negatively impact your career. One of the most noticeable side effects of drugs and alcohol is a lack of productivity, which can put your job at risk. People with an addiction to drugs and alcohol may lose employment because of poor work performance or too many days of missed work. Previous or numerous similar incidents may also make it harder to get back into the workforce after treatment.
Finding Drug or Alcohol Treatment Near You
Getting treatment for addiction is essential for reaching the recovery stage, and studies show it is effective. Federal research finds most people who get into and remain in drug treatment stop using drugs and improve their occupational, social and psychological functions.
Alcohol treatment is similar. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports, “One-third of people who are treated for alcohol problems have no further symptoms one year later. Many others substantially reduce their drinking and report fewer alcohol-related problems.”
Find a treatment center near you using Google's Recover Together tool
Paying for Drug or Alcohol Rehab
The cost of substance abuse treatment can vary between $3,000–$20,000 based on needs and location. According to a national drug survey, it is the main reason why those struggling with addiction did not seek treatment. While the price seems daunting at first, there are several options and resources available for paying for rehab.
When you begin your search for treatment facilities, ask for financial costs upfront. Facilities should tell you typical costs for your course of treatment, which services are covered by insurance and which are not and if payment plans are available. While it’s essential to find a treatment option you can afford, there are low-cost facilities and state funding resources available.
Insurance Coverage for Rehab
Most insurers cover some drug or alcohol rehab, whether it be in a residential facility as an inpatient, or on an outpatient basis. You should call the number on the back of your insurance card to learn your specific coverage options. You’ll want to know the following coverage details and understand the meaning of the following insurance terms:
This is the amount of money you’ll need to pay out-of-pocket before your benefits begin covering costs.
Some insurers ask you to pay a small amount of money upfront to providers. You may need to pay each time you visit the facility.
Insurers work with providers to negotiate rates and create a network of doctors. To ensure the best price, get a list of facilities within your insurer’s network.
Ask if there are limits on inpatient days and outpatient sessions, as well as what costs you will need to cover if you go beyond those limits.
If you require medications to help in your recovery, they may be covered by your insurance. Similar to provider coverage, you may be required to meet a deductible or include a co-pay.
Always ask if there are other services offered. With some courses of treatment, a case manager is covered who can help work with you directly, managing care and helping you evaluate your options.
Paying Out of Pocket for Rehab
Insurance is typically the most straightforward way to pay for addiction treatment. You can enroll in coverage anytime if you have a qualifying life event, including marriage, divorce, having a baby or changing jobs. There are other payment options for you if you don’t have insurance. However, it might take some persistence and a few phone calls to access available resources. Here are other steps to take to help fund rehab:
- Reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to talk to someone about your specific situation. SAMHSA has online tools and a helpline designed to refer you to a local facility, support group or organization to match your needs.
- You may qualify for Medicaid, a government insurance program for low-income families. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in most states, you are eligible for Medicaid if you earn less than $17,236 per year as an individual or $29,435 for a family of three. There are no restrictions on when you can apply for Medicaid. To apply, contact your state Medicaid agency.
- When contacting facilities, ask if they offer low-cost care based on your income. Some facilities offer a sliding scale or payment assistance. This means the cost is adjusted to meet your ability to pay, and treatment is provided with a reduced price tag.
- Look for a local or state-funded facility that will offer more affordable options. If your local health agency does not have specific treatment programs, it will have a list of facilities it works with that offer affordable options.
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) suggests you ask a health professional for a free consultation or assessment. Providers may offer the first session free to learn what course of treatment is best and then provide resources for the next steps.
- Friends and family are great emotional support, but they may also be able to help with financial support. It doesn’t hurt to ask if they are willing to loan you the money to help improve your health and well being.
Grants and Scholarships for Recovery
Some individual treatment facilities offer scholarships on a case-by-case basis. There is limited financial aid for substance abuse treatment available, so it can be challenging to find and receive. Still, it’s worth asking about the availability of such programs at any treatment facilities you’re considering. Before you apply for a substance use treatment scholarship, review the following:
Financial aid for rehab is typically reserved for those who would not receive treatment without it. Treatment facilities are looking for those who have exhausted their payment options. Facilities also want to make sure scholarships go to people who complete the program, so they are looking for those dedicated to recovery.
Finding a Scholarship
Most financial aid is offered directly from facilities, so there is not a list out there to easily search. Your best resource is your community. Ask your local health agency, social workers, churches or charity groups if they have a list compiled. Nationally, the non-profit group 10,000 Beds works with local agencies when they have openings and provides scholarships to fill those open beds. They are not an overnight placement service and can only accept 25 applicants at a time.
With so few scholarships available, you’ll need to communicate your need for both treatment and financial aid clearly. To show your financial need, explain what steps you've already taken to find funding. You’ll also want to demonstrate your commitment to recovery by stating your personal goals, describing how you’ll achieve them and planning for rehabilitation long term.
What’s Not Covered
Most scholarships won’t cover the full cost of a program, so ask what’s not included. Also, if you don’t complete the program, you’ll likely lose the scholarship and be financially responsible for all treatment.
Financial Recovery After Addiction
People who live with a drug or alcohol addiction know that recovery is a lifetime commitment. Every person who enters the recovery phase of treatment faces their own personal journey.
Some people recovering from substance use are single, young and on their own, while others have a family depending on them and are looking to rebuild those relationships. While every situation is unique, there are steps to take to get back on steadier financial footing.
The first step to financial recovery is to start small. No one tackles finances overnight, so it’s a good idea to list your priorities and work on funding those first. Setting priorities is one of the first steps to creating a budget.
Address the big things first, such as housing and earning an income. The more detailed plan you have for money management in recovery, the less stress you’ll have and the less likely you will have a recurrence of use.
Finding Stable Housing After Recovery
Stable housing is a crucial element in maintaining long-term recovery. Should you live with family, on your own or with others recovering from addiction? You need to find a living environment that will give you the best chance to succeed in your pathway to recovery.
As part of its housing recommendations for people in recovery, SAMHSA suggests that potential residents and case managers understand the house dynamic and ensure it’s a good fit for everyone. These guidelines and questions can be applied to all recovering housing options:
- Is the house culture generally healthy and does it include peer investment in recovery?
- What is the level of medical and therapeutic care available, and does it support your needs?
- Does the geographic area and neighborhood environment support the recovery process?
- Are current residents welcoming, committed to helping you recover, employed, engaged and supportive?
According to SAMHSA, “Community support is a critical aspect of achieving and maintaining recovery. Therefore, recovery houses are uniquely qualified to assist individuals in all phases of recovery, especially those in early recovery, by furnishing social capital and recovery supports.” Because homes such as recovery houses or halfway houses have first-hand knowledge of the challenges of recovery, they are an excellent resource for people just out of rehab. They can provide a stable environment, medical knowledge, medications and peer support.
Search SAMHSA for nearby treatment facilities and living centers using SAMHSA’s treatment locator.
Employment in Recovery
We all want and need a steady income to support ourselves and our family. However, it’s essential to recognize some jobs do not support a substance-free lifestyle. Work can trigger the recurrence of substance use when it’s an unhealthy environment or unsupportive peers surround you.
It’s crucial to recognize possible triggers and put yourself in a position to avoid them. If your current job has the potential to compromise your pathway to recovery, it may be best to seek new employment.
When looking for a job, look for positions that are a good fit for your recovery. People who are recovering may find a structured work environment and set duties work best with their recovery plan. Chaos may not be a good fit for those working to find structure, balance and stability.
Job searching in recovery can be stressful, but some employers are supportive and create healthy work environments. While there’s not a list of these employers, almost all rehab centers and some substance-free living homes have job placement programs and contacts available.
Your county or state may also offer free career counseling services. People in recovery who have a criminal record can get help with job placement, too. CareerOneStop has job search and skills assessment resources for people with criminal convictions.
Bank Accounts and Responsible Credit After Addiction
Holding yourself accountable in recovery for your spending habits is essential for staying on a budget and staying free from substance use. This situation is best handled with a bank account or credit card account to better track where and how you spend your money. Cash also introduces the possibility of spending on substances you're working hard to avoid.
Because most people can go weeks without using cash in today’s society, it’s possible to rely almost entirely on bank or credit cards for your budgeted spending. If you want to stay away from using cash, at least initially, set up a bank account, but don’t get ATM access.
Credit cards are another cashless option, but you should only use credit when you know you can pay it back. Credit card debt, fees and interest payments add up quickly and can create more financial stress.
True Link offers a prepaid bank card specifically for people in recovery. The sober credit card allows caseworkers, family members or guardians to add money to the card. It limits some transactions and prevents purchases at liquor stores, casinos, bars and other places that could be triggering.
Unfortunately, some people battling addiction end up facing criminal or civil cases. While you have the right to an attorney in criminal cases, you’ll still face high legal fees if you’re arrested for a drug- or alcohol-related offense. These offenses can range from possession of illegal substances to driving under the influence.
Legal advice website NOLO surveyed people throughout the country and found that the total average cost of a first-offense DUI charge adds up to $6,500. While NOLO’s cost breakdown of these charges doesn’t account for everything (line items such as missed work, transportation costs once someone can’t drive themselves, etc.), seeing the cost breakdown of this figure helps illuminate just how costly a DUI is.
COST BREAKDOWN OF FIRST-OFFENSE DUI CHARGES
- Attorney’s Fees$1,900
- Car Insurance Rate Hikes$800
- Court-mandated Courses Such as Traffic School and Substance Abuse Education$360
- DMV Fees Such as License Reinstatement$260
- Ignition Locking Device as Mandated by Law$170
- Towing and Storage of Vehicle$170
Even if someone is in recovery, these costly expenses may take years to pay off entirely. It’s important to pay these off as soon as possible. The government can withhold tax refunds to capture overdue court fees and judgments.
Financial Hardships and Bankruptcy
More than 700,000 people file for bankruptcy each year in the United States, and the majority of those filings are due to medical debt and hardships caused by medical debt and medical issues, including time off work. Some of these bankruptcy filings could very well represent people struggling with addiction, medical treatments as a result of those addictions and time off work and income lost due to addiction.
Regardless of the reason, filing for bankruptcy can be devastating. These extreme financial hardships take a toll on your mental and physical well being. With small steps, there are ways to repair your financial situation.
When you first start a budget out of rehab, you should make a list of all the money you owe. Include debts, legal fees, rehab expenses, credit card debt and overdue bills. Consider working with a sponsor or counselor to disclose all your debt, as well as your current expenses.
Once you have a complete list, you can determine what to do next. Bankruptcy is an option for those whose income won’t cover expenses and may offer a new chance at creating financial stability.
For some, bankruptcy is not the best option, and a better option could be creating a budget that pays off your debt over time. From your list of debt and expenses, look at where you can reduce or cut back on spending. That may mean cutting back on eating out with friends, but it’s essential to prioritize your long-term goals.
Debt is challenging for all of us, and it’s worth working with someone with experience handling creditors. Look for a nonprofit organization to help you, so you don’t add to your expenses. USA.gov has resources for dealing with debt, and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling offers help to get out of debt.
Throughout your recovery, you will lean on family, friends, sponsors and counselors. You may also need help from a financial counselor. These counselors know how to develop a plan to reach economic recovery after addiction and get you back on your feet financially. They can assist with prioritizing and paying off debt as well as building your savings. Counselors also hold you accountable for your spending habits.
Some rehab programs and substance-free living centers offer financial counseling as part of the recovery process. If your program does not, you can find accredited counselors to help. Most nonprofit counselors belong to one of two national agencies: the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the Financial Counseling Association of America. You can use these websites to find an affiliated counselor near you.
As you make a budget to pay down debts, manage expenses and eventually build your savings, it’s vital to prioritize recovery. Your budget items should include the necessary resources for your recovery needs. These expenses can consist of counseling services, medications, medical visits and other items and experiences that enhance your physical well being. If going to the gym or yoga is essential to your recovery, then it should be essential to your budget.
Creating a savings account for the future takes time. Still, it's a crucial step in offering financial stability and reducing the stress that can come from dealing with unexpected expenses. As you make a budget, include a line item for savings. Start small — even $5 a month over 12 months adds up. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to save every spare dollar every single month. There are surprise expenses that come up for all of us, but if you include a goal every month, you’ll eventually see progress.
Avoid Financial Relapse Triggers
Managing your money can be a trigger for relapse. Not only can the stress of budgeting initiate negative thoughts and feelings, but money itself can be a trigger. In many cases, using cash reminds people of their struggles with addiction. Recognizing if this is the case for you will help you set yourself up for success with responsible money management.
If cash is a trigger, there are ways to avoid using it. First, set up your paycheck to be directly deposited into a checking account to prevent spending it the moment you get it. Rely on bank or credit cards, specifically without ATM access.
Ask someone you trust to manage your finances. This person could be a family member, friend or sponsor. It can help hold you accountable to a budget and help you stay on track with your recovery.
Along with day-to-day spending stressors, building a nest egg and seeing the money accumulate may also create a trigger. Having extra money can lead to the urge to spend on substances such as drugs or alcohol. If that’s the case for you, put your savings under the control of someone you trust. Getting help with this enables you to keep adding to your savings while only making withdrawals with your trusted person’s oversight.
Expert Advice on Financial Guide for Those Recovering from an Addiction
- What's the first thing people should know about the impact treatment will have on their finances?
- Finances can be stressful and a trigger for some. How can people in recovery productively approach these stressors?
- Are relapses common, and what should people understand if they have tried treatment but have a relapse themselves?
Professor of Emergency Medicine and Biomedical Informatics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
Resources for Financial Accountability in Recovery
From finding treatment to counseling after rehab, there are multiple reliable resources available to help you on your journey to long-term recovery.
The most well-known program to help those in recovery from alcohol use offers online tools and links to local A.A. programs.
For those looking to get back into the workforce, the U.S. Department of Labor sponsors this website full of job hunting resources.
This website offers a simple search function to find rehab centers, substance-free living and outpatient treatment options near you.
National Foundation for Credit Counseling
This agency focuses on financial counseling for those looking to get out of debt or build their first budget.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
As a department with the National Institute of Health, this agency offers information for those looking for treatment as well as their families.
National Institute on Drug Abuse
With a focus on research and facts, this NIH website will help you better understand drug and alcohol use and the latest research on treatment.
With local meetings and an online community, this national support group offers self-management and recovery training.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
This government agency serves as a primary source for finding treatment that matches your needs. It offers a 24/7 helpline for referral and information.
Taking steps to recover from substance use is a brave, challenging and rewarding process. It is essential to take the small steps that lead to significant changes. Thankfully there are several affordable resources available to help you on your journey to recovery.
Everyone needs help, so reach out to friends, family, community organizations and the resources above. State and federal agencies have experience helping people with addiction and get you started in the right direction. Rehab can be affordable with the right approach, and you can continue your recovery with financial stability.
First and foremost, prioritize your pathway to recovery with a budget that sets you up for financial success. This includes finding supportive environments at home, at work and with friends. When you can rely on a steady income, you’ll quickly pay down debts and begin saving for a new future.
About Danielle Kiser
- DEA. "2018 National Drug Assessment." Accessed February 28, 2020.
- NIH. "Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide." Accessed February 14, 2020.
- NOLO. "How Much Does a First Offense DUI Cost?." Accessed February 27, 2020.
- Surgeon General. "Recovery: The Many Paths to Wellness." Accessed February 12, 2020.
- SAMHSA. "Recovery Housing: Best Practices and Suggested Guidelines." Accessed February 18, 2020.
- SAMHSA. "The National Survey on Drug Use and Health: 2018." Accessed February 12, 2020.
- US Census. "Who files for Personal Bankruptcy in the United States?." Accessed February 20, 2020.