Addiction is a costly endeavour. We already know addiction is a black hole for time, happiness, relationships, potential, energy, and (sadly) many lives. As a society, we quite rightly discuss this frequently, particularly in countries where alcohol is deeply embedded in culture.
But there is another overt cost to addiction which is not so frequently discussed: the financial cost. For me, a newly sober problem drinker, the financial implications of my alcohol consumption were troubling and difficult for me to acknowledge.
The people around me seemingly drank like just like I did, but somehow they appeared to thrive while I began to spiral. They got approved for mortgages, they bought family cars, they took trips to the Maldives, they adopted dogs. As for me, nearing the end of my drinking career, I was in several thousand pounds of debt, and had no money in the bank. It was tough to realise that maybe we weren’t the same types of drinker after all.
After a couple of years of experimenting with moderation, sustained dry spells, and now full-on sobriety, a newfound financial security is one of the amazing and unexpected benefits. Heading into sobriety, I was more concerned about my mental and physical health than my credit score, but today I find myself almost completely debt free, and with a budding sense of money well-being.
Here are some of the reasons why I think my financial situation has U-turned thanks to moderation and sobriety alone, ranging from the downright stupid (see: fried chicken expenditure) to a profound shift in my self respect and financial boundaries.
I’m sober enough to take public transport safely
Drinking Me had an unfortunate and costly habit when it came to transport. At least weekly, I’d get hammered with friends then drunkenly attempt to take the tube or the bus back home when the night came to an end. It was only a short journey home, just a few stops. I’d be fine.
Cut to me getting shaken awake by a stranger at some dark, obscure, deserted station at the end of the line with no idea where I was and no way of getting back home. Sigh, I’d done it again. It was a bonus if I still had my keys, bag, or phone.
The advent of Uber in London was a godsend, and often got me out of those sticky, survivalist situations in outer suburbia, even if I did have a terrible rating. I came to rely exclusively on Uber rides to get me home, the cost of which certainly stacks up in comparison to the modest price of a bus or tube ride in London.
Without the haze of confusion that comes with excessive drinking, I’m no longer a missing person liability on London’s public transport. The only reason I’m blacking out on the underground these days is if my audiobook happens to be particularly soothing. It always feels great to get home.
One other advantage of being able to take public transport without liability, is I am far less likely to puke in a taxi. Anyone who has ever puked up red wine on an Uber’s pristine interior knows that the drivers really don’t like it (who could blame them?). Your hangover isn’t be the only surprise waiting for you the next morning. A hefty cleaning charge will be waiting for you too.
No more payday blowouts
Before starting to quit drinking, payday was my monthly Christmas. It was the day that my entire life was geared towards. Payday represented everything I needed to justify a major drinking session: funds, freedom, and a reason to celebrate.
Payday celebrations would all to often get out of hand. What would often start as a casual ‘one drink’ at my desk, would escalate to a few at the pub, a few more at a bar, moving onto some obscure party in a dodgy flat in East London. Waking up in bus stops and bins was commonplace.
The problem with this payday habit is that I was blowing through my financial resources before I had a chance to even think about setting any aside for a rainy day. I was literally making myself broke, then complaining about being broke.
Even though I was paid an acceptable salary in my then job, I was adamant that I was chronically underpaid. Somehow I never made it to the end of the month with money left in the bank. For this reason I was unsatisfied with every job I had in my twenties, even though my drinking and overspending was the common denominator.
These days, Sober Me is not as payday orientated as Drinking Me was. Through not drinking I have achieved a more sustainable spending pattern which allows me to put some cash aside and save up for the things I want to buy. I am learning to leave my money alone to rest for a while before wasting it on a temporary sensation.
My fried chicken expenditure has drastically reduced
Something about excessive alcohol consumption turned Drinking Me into a total fast food tyrant. My mind would become totally tunnel-visioned on obtaining salty, fatty foods at the earliest opportunity. Thankfully for Drinking Me, here in South London there is a fried chicken shop on almost every street corner.
Embarrassingly for Drinking Me, there are multiple stories involving my sudden disappearance on significant nights out, only for me to be found later on, idly picking through the bones of a portion of BBQ wings on my own.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against fried chicken. It’s a heavenly food. But something about alcohol certainly makes it taste far nicer in my experience. Sober Me doesn’t crave the salt-hit in the same way that Drinking Me did.
Nowadays, Sober Me is more likely to get home at a reasonable hour and make toast. Sure, ordering chicken doesn’t exactly break the bank, but I’m certainly glad to keep the change, and my digestive health.
I acknowledged my growing debt
One of the more serious consequences of my drinking was that I got into several thousand pounds of credit card debt. My balance grew slowly and insidiously over a few years, until eventually I was unable to ignore the growing psychological burden that the debt had put upon me.
What’s worse is that I had almost nothing tangible to show for my debt. In fact, I had almost no possessions at all. A broken futon bed, a clothing rail, an old laptop, a small rented bedroom. It was enough, but not enough to justify the massive cost.
I do believe debt can be warranted in certain circumstances. Sometimes we might need to furnish a new home, or fix a broken car, or purchase a new fridge-freezer in an emergency. But I had so little to show for my debt, only the gut wrenching realisation that paying it off would be a lot harder than it was to spend it. It would take years. I buried my head in the sand.
As I began to explore sustained periods of moderation and sobriety, I found that not drinking was the sole, unintentional, magic fix needed to make significant dents on my debt. I began to accumulate funds, and I chipped away at my balances month by month, year by year.
With my newfound mental clarity, I was able to get serious about tackling my debt situation. I made payment plans, I set budgets, I deliberately saved cash. I questioned every frivolous purchase I found myself considering. Most of the time I reallocated that money rather than wasting it. Knowing I had done something good for myself felt so much better than buying that unnecessary drink/shirt/whatever.
My debt situation is now at a stage where I hope to be completely debt free in the next two months. It feels so great, and I often thank my past self for intervening before things got any worse. I sleep better and I am excited for the moment when I can log into my credit card apps and see ‘Balance: zero’ across the board.
I saved a small emergency fund
Even though I had debts to pay, I realised I needed a small savings safety net too. Common financial advice states that it is good practice to have at least three months of expenses saved to protect you in the event of sudden job loss or change in financial circumstances.
Drinking Me had approximately (let me calculate it…) zero months of expenses saved. In fact, Drinking Me wasn’t even covering the current month’s expenses, let alone covering expenses for some unforeseen future emergency. I was transferring funds, begging, borrowing, and using credit cards, sometimes just to pay the rent.
When my mother got sick in 2018, I realised just how quickly life can turn on a dime. Just because I was young-ish, healthy-ish, and in full time employment, (AKA getting away with it) that didn’t mean anything was guaranteed.
While still questioning my drinking, I got serious about putting aside three months of rent. It was challenging, especially while beginning to pay off my insurmountable debts. It was only through switching wine for the occasional soda water (I call it the Reverse Jesus) and limiting my alcohol related outgoings that I was able to scrape aside funds.
Now I rest a little easier in knowing that I have something put aside for if the worst happens. In this unpredictable economy we find ourselves in, it’s better to have a little something, just for peace of mind.
I became productive for the first time
Removing alcohol from my life was like lifting a mental and physical weight. That downward-bearing force that kept me pinned to the bed in the mornings, and kept me lazy and unmotivated throughout the day, was gone.
In my day job, I began to thrive. I realised that I was not, in fact, as overworked as I had previously thought I was. Rather, I was attempting to work while expending energy in drinking, hangovers, and poor mental health. Soon, the day’s objectives became entirely manageable, and it was fulfilling to achieve them. I accepted more responsibility in my role, and was financially rewarded accordingly.
Before this, Drinking Me had never once been given a promotion, a bonus, or any extra responsibility in any role. In fact, Drinking Me had come perilously close to losing jobs, such was my seeming lack of punctuality, consistency, and drive. Even though I ‘wanted’ to succeed, Drinking Me just couldn’t make it happen. I would usually leave a job before they made the decision for me.
The newly discovered lack of hangover headaches also left room for freelancing, which I took up on some weekends and evenings, often tapping out hundreds of words for copywriting clients, hours before Drinking Me would have woken up, nauseous, sorry-headed, and surrounded by chicken bones.
I nurtured a ‘Me First’ financial attitude
One of the key pillars of my sobriety journey is what I call my ‘I Deserve’ reminders. This is how I remind myself that I can deserve the things that drinking once stole from me.
Typical daily ‘I Deserve’ reminders include ‘I deserve to feel good’ or ‘I deserve good mental health’ or ‘I deserve to sleep well’ or ‘I deserve to have good relationships’. Drinking Me felt that not only did he not deserve these things, but they were entirely out of reach. Drinking Me was such a people-pleaser, that he upheld others’ mental health, well-being, relationships, values, and finances, all to the detriment of his own.
These ‘I Deserve’ reminders are equally as applicable to financial situations. Drinking Me was deeply jealous whenever one of his friends bought a house, or a nice car, or mentioned they had no debt, or having a few grand in savings. Who were these financial unicorns? I knew that would never be me.
Nowadays, I have to remind myself that ‘I deserve savings’, that ‘I deserve to be debt free’, that ‘I deserve to have a home’, that ‘I deserve security’. These daily affirmations help silence that inner doubt that creeps in and and tries to persuade me to waste money on alcohol or other related sundries. It helps remind me that I am doing the right thing by saving a big chunk of cash on payday or clearing debts rather than wasting it all on a quick buzz.
Sometimes sobriety requires us to be a little bit selfish. Not getting that round of drinks, not paying to enter that venue, going home when everyone is begging you to stay out and have fun: these situations can be social nightmares. It requires real resolve and strong foundation not to give in. Often, people won’t understand your reasons.
My hope is that a future, more financially sustainable version of me will be able to show people love in different ways, other than just being drinking buddies. Maybe I will be able to send birthday cards, gifts, things I could scarcely afford in my drinking life. Maybe I’ll help them out in a tight money spot, or book us a nice dinner simply to celebrate being alive.
Maybe I’ll host them at my very own house for a weekend, and cook nice food and take nice trips. Maybe I’ll drive in my very own car to pick them up from the airport.
One thing I know is that for me, every time I drink it moves these financial ambitions one step further away from me. I simply do not have the energy anymore to bemoan my situation, whilst also actively making it worse for myself. I remind myself: I deserve to get out of my own way. If I stick with this not drinking thing, it’s all right there for the taking.