National Survey: Financial Challenges Jeopardize Recovery From Addiction and Substance Use Disorder

SAN FRANCISCO, 12/4/2018 -- With drug overdose the leading cause of death among Americans under 50,¹ addiction is not only one of the most daunting health crises facing America today – it can be a financial nightmare, too. True Link releases a new study today, which is among the first to quantify the relationship between money and substance use disorder (SUD). In the study, Financial Wellness in Addiction and Recovery: Hard Truths and Real Consequences, people reported ways in which addiction destroys a person's finances, as well as how the challenge of rebuilding a financial life can impede recovery:

• 82% of respondents said their loved one with an SUD experienced adverse financial effects due to their addiction.
• Eight in ten agreed that regaining control of one’s finances is one of the biggest challenges for those in recovery.

True Link’s national survey on finances and addiction

True Link conducted a nationally representative survey of 341 Americans aged 18 and older, 149 of whom (44%) report having a loved one with an SUD. Eighty-two percent of respondents said their loved one with an SUD experienced the following adverse financial effects due to their addiction:

• 48% drained savings or retirement accounts
• 42% sold assets to gain access to cash and
• 11% filed for bankruptcy

To better understand these numbers, we conducted several interviews with people in recovery and those working in the field. One interviewee with an SUD said that, to make his financial life work when he was using, he started “pulling mad loans, refinancing and selling my assets, my cars, and refinancing my home.” He lost the business he had built. Once in recovery, however, he reached a point when his parents “didn’t trust me to give me money, but I still needed to get a haircut, to buy deodorant.”

Regaining a normal financial life: An essential part of recovery yet little help from banks

Troubles with money often persist long after substance use stops. Eight in ten adults who have a loved one with an SUD agree that regaining control of one’s finances is one of the biggest obstacles in recovery. Having ready access to money makes it easier to relapse in a moment of temptation. However, removing access to money is also an impediment to recovery – by making it harder to build a positive, sober life that many specialists cite as a key to recovery.³ “Certainly addiction affects someone’s finances. Being in control over money is an essential part of recovery,” says Dr. Daniel Bober, Medical Director at Lifeskills South Florida.

Within our survey sample of adults with a loved one who have an SUD:

• 87% said that banks or credit card companies do not offer much to help people with substance use disorders as they try to regain control of their financial lives
• 77% said they wish there were tools that offered financial guardrails to help their loved one regain independence in recovery
• 77% said they feel that their loved one having access to cash could result in relapse

One medical director at a sober living facility told a story in which a resident was saved from a relapse as a result of not carrying cash: “[Albert] admitted he was having cravings but assured us, ‘I’m fine. It’s good.’” Two days later, he was walking home to the sober living residence after an intense therapy session off-site when someone he passed on the street offered him the chance to buy drugs. Without cash in his pockets, he couldn’t make the purchase.

Another interviewee, Billy, sober for two years and four months, talked about how demoralizing it was to not have financial control: “Early in my recovery, I realized that I have no money and no one trusts me to give me money… It made me feel less. Less than.”Addiction and financial challenges can feed into each other, which can compound the already-difficult psychological and practical challenges of recovery. “Being able to make typical day-to-day purchases, like putting gas in your car to get to work, or taking a new friend out for coffee, is critical,” said Kai Stinchcombe, CEO of True Link Financial. “Having no safe, dignified way to pay for basic items makes it harder to build yourself a new life. Recovery is not just tough physically, mentally, and spiritually. There are financial barriers in place that make it harder to build yourself a new life. People in recovery are incredibly resilient, and financial tools should match.”

The numbers behind SUD

It’s no secret that substance abuse and addiction are having a profound effect on our families, our communities, and our country:

• Nearly half of all Americans (44%) have a loved one who is dealing with a substance use disorder now or who has dealt with one in the past.²
• Nine in ten Americans say that addiction is a problem in their community.⁴


1. CDC, 2016. Underlying Cause of Death, 1999-2016.

2. True Link national survey of 341 Americans aged 18+ conducted online using SurveyMonkey Audience panel and fielded August 26-27th, 2018.

3. Elswick, Alex, "Emerging Adults and Recovery Capital: Barriers and Facilitators to Recovery" (2017). Theses and Dissertations--Family Sciences. 51.

4. Gramlich, John. “As fatal overdoses rise, many Americans see drug addiction as a major problem in their community.” Pew Research, 2018.

True Link is a San Francisco-based company committed to increasing the independence and financial well-being of older adults, people with disabilities, and people recovering from addiction. The company offers payment cards, investment management, and other financial services. Founded in 2012, True Link serves clients in all 50 states.