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  • Writer's pictureRon Gallen

Money and the Recovering Addict

Money is particularly troublesome for people in recovery. Addicts of all stripes often have stubbornly entrenched money problems long into their recovery from other addictions. I know of no surer route to depression and despair for a recovering addict than chronic and baffling trouble with money. I regularly field calls from people with five, ten, twenty-five years of recovery who are at their wit's end about money and work.And it's not just the bill collectors who are demanding reparations, their intimate relationships bear the brunt as well. Despite profound changes in most areas of their lives, addictive money problems continue to occupy a fortified position.

The phenomenon of switching addictions is well know, of course. Addiction has been likened to a ten-headed dragon: once you think you've cut off its head, another one pops up for you do battle with. One of the dragons is money. After all, not only do addictions switch but they also coexist, and different ones become ascendant at different times.

The fact of dual and triple addiction is well established as well. Most addicts have some chronic problem with money while in recovery from other addiction(s). The process addiction problems of food, money, and relationships in particular tend to cluster together. For some the money stuff really does resolve as they stay committed to their recovery. For others, though, money problems become deeply impacted, and the confusion and despair they cause may be the most painful and protracted difficulties in their lives.

Even Bill Wilson continued his struggles with money into sobriety. "Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us" is one of the promises in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. It does tend to be particularly elusive to many. If you are one of those in recovery and suffering with a money disorder, this particular promise doesn't come to pass without specialized help. The fundamental idea of turning your will and your life over to a higher power has a hard time holding for this group when it comes to money.

Adding to the problem can be the wisdom of twelve step programs themselves. At least the wisdom as it is passed on informally by sponsors and fellow travelers. The idea that if you stay sober and do the steps all else will come into line turns out to be true only for some. Consider the case of someone with a severe case of anorexia nervosa. Can you imagine that not drinking, going to meetings, and doing the steps in AA would also take care of the problem? Not likely. And addiction counselors themselves adopt a sometimes similar approach that if you are vigilant enough in your recovery and treatment that all the money stuff will work itself out. It tends not to until addressed directly.

Yes, of everyone walking through the doors of AA, for example, most of them will have some difficulty in their financial life but perhaps half or so will work through that stuff organically as their recovery takes shape. Another quarter of them will struggle with that part of their life, a thorn in their side, difficult to manage in therapy, difficult in their relationships. The final quarter will find their money trouble very deep rooted indeed. Very often for that last quarter, their very recovery itself is threatened and their suffering very real, indeed. That ease and serenity their fellow AA'ers seem to have all around them remains tantalizingly close but ever elusive.

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