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Financial Stresses and Substance Abuse


Stress can cause a myriad of serious psychological and physical ailments. And one of the most prevalent sources of stress revolves around finances. After all, there is usually an escape from home life stress or the daily grind of work – however financial stresses seem to linger 24×7.

On a day like October 24, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average opened almost 1100 points lower, capping off a run of a few days that collectively lost investors trillions of dollars, those prone to stress can come apart at the seams. Much like other major down days in the past, fear and panic gripped one of the biggest sources of wealth in the United States. Many worried we were doomed.

A problem we face in modern society is that, for many, our finances are central to our identity. The car we drive, the house in which we live and the jewelry we wear seems inextricably tied to our perception of happiness – the more we have, the happier we are. This, of course, creates a dangerous set of expectations. More importantly, it simply isn’t true.

It is as these expectations diverge from reality, by greater and greater margins, that substance abuse and mental illness becomes more prevalent. After all, what happens when a big part of our identity is diminished or vanishes altogether? There’s plenty to be done and as addiction counselors, we can promote many constructive actions:

  1. Whether you are treating the breadwinner or not, they should, if possible, have an open and honest conversation with their spouse about family finances. While this may be difficult or even embarrassing, it promotes trust between partners
  2. Family members, and especially spouses, should offer their support (or at least withhold judgment) if the breadwinner is truly seeking help – in the form of treatment for substance abuse issues and/or restructuring finances. Facing seemingly impossible spousal expectations is overwhelming. Therefore, if the spouse offers his or her support, some pressure is relieved
  3. Clients need to be reminded that money is probably not the primary source of happiness in their lives. Solid relationships with spouses, children and friends are likely to offer far greater value – however these relationships can be tarnished by worries about money
  4. If clients are in severe financial distress, they should be directed to a financial advisor who can help them dig out. If this is no longer an option, a bankruptcy attorney can be useful. Either professional can offer greater financial clarity, thus reducing stress
  5. Stressful financial times offer an opportunity for the client to reevaluate their life and see how they can improve it. Learning new skills, getting educated, finding a new career and more can create hope
  6. There is no shame in working more hours or even a second job to make ends meet. Again, the benefit of moving closer toward meeting obligations can offer an unrivalled sense of achievement

The reality is that very few Americans find themselves without any opportunity to fix their finances. It is often an inability to see past the immediate difficulties and the subsequent possibility of substance abuse that turns someone with great promise into a hopeless shadow of themselves. Ultimately, as counselors, we need to instill the realization that there are good times and bad in life. And just like life, while the stock market goes down, it never seems to stay down for too long. Once we take a longer-term investment strategy in ourselves, we will win, in the end.