Financial Responsibility for Addicts and Their Partners

It is crucial to think beyond addiction when considering finances.

Posted Dec 12, 2019

One of the challenges for addicts and their partners is to try to manage the downward spiral of financial responsibility that comes with addiction. The addict may hide money from the spouse or partner to use to fund the addiction, or they may steal money from family or employers, or engage in maxing out credit cards to try to get cash to buy alcohol, drugs, or to engage in the addictive behavior. Addicts may also dip into savings accounts, children's college funds, or even take out loans in the names of their children or family members to attempt to fund their addiction. 

It is crucial to think beyond alcohol and drug addiction when considering financial responsibility and debt. Gambling is an addiction that has a significant impact on family finances. It is estimated that legal gambling in the United States is a $500 billion dollar a year industry, and it is only growing with increased online gambling and wagering options. 

At the same time, the partner or spouse may have difficulties in addressing these issues with the addict. They may feel that speaking out will just result in a backlash or an argument, and they are struggling to try to avoid these types of conflicts. They may try to make up the difference, to work with creditors to try to develop payment plans or to somehow juggle the finances to prevent foreclosure, repossessions, and to keep a roof over the family's head. 

Finally, the addict may have ongoing financial costs related to their addiction. This may include ongoing fees to the court, payments for attorney's fees, and additional expenses if they cannot drive a vehicle or have lost their job through the addiction. Partners and spouses may try to compensate for these added debts and costs, but unless the addict is able to break the cycle of use and begin to take financial responsibility, it quickly becomes a snowballing issue of debilitating debt. 

There are different options that those in recovery and their partner or spouse can use to develop effective financial management strategies. In most cases, people attending a recovery program will have some discussions of debt recovery and financial management in group sessions, but this is not always enough for all individuals. 

·      Set a plan as a couple – work with a trusted friend, a financial planner, a counselor, or a debt management professional to understand your current debt situation. It is important not to guess or to approximate, but to know your debt, income, and assets. From this, it is possible to develop a plan that includes paying down debt in small steps and in a strategic way. 

·      Have a budget – agreeing upon a budget and using a "cash only" system is useful, but only if both the addict and the partner agree. If the partner has always tried to accommodate or placate the addict about financial issues, it is not fair to expect the partner to assume the role of the person in full financial control. 

·      Limit access to money – direct deposit, accounts that are not linked to ATM cards, and getting rid of credit and debit cards are all effective strategies to limit easy access to money. Instead, consider prepaid credit cards that only allow cardholders to spend money already on the card. 

Understanding the financial devastation of addiction for both the addict and the partner can be a difficult task. Working together and both committing to the plan, as well as asking others involved as needed, is always the right way to start making a positive financial change. 


Fay, M. (2019, April 2). Gambling and Debt. Retrieved from

Sandberg, E. (2012, July 5). The High Cost of Descending into Drug-Related Debt. Retrieved from