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Lesson 5 - The parallels of drinking and overspending

Apr 18, 2023

There are so many parallels to addiction of spending and alcohol. This was my story. When I stopped drinking and started my sobriety from alcohol the addiction of spending came on strong. Different substance, same outcome. 

In recovery we have a saying, we peel the layers of the onion. When we start our recovery from one substance or situation we can often pick up something else in its place. Often if you are recovering from alcohol use disorder it can be replaced with food, sugar, spending, gambling, sex etc. I like to call it same sh*t, different pile. It’s all the same. We are reaching outside of ourselves to escape. We use something else as a coping mechanism. Some call it a really fun game of whack-a-mole. 

This is completely normal. 

In Lesson 4 we talked about understanding our financial feelings. This is where the parallels are really seen. The feelings. The things we are trying to numb out on. The void we are trying to fill. 

Part of my story is that I blacked out when I was shopping near the end of my active spending addiction. I had a horrible day at work as a Financial Advisor, stuff was going on at home and I was STRESSED the heck out. After work I drove straight to my drug of choice - Winners. For those that live in the US, it is a store like Target and home goods. When I was drinking I would automatically go to the liquor store after work, this time I drove to a store because I hadn’t drank in 2 years. I remember pulling into the parking light, the bright lights, the door opening and I remember putting the bags in the back of my car. I got home and got the bags out (I wasn’t one to hide my shopping) and my husband made the comment that I had gone shopping. I stopped dead in my tracks. I had no idea what I bought. Clothes, shoes, duvet cover, throw pillow. I spent over $800.00. The feelings started immediately, embarrassment, regret, shame etc. 

The same exact feelings I would have when I drank too much. 

When I worked as a Financial Advisor I had a boss who would often joke about putting her wine bottles in her neighbours recycling so that her husband wouldn’t see how much she drank. She would hide them and then run them out to the recycling every morning. At that point I thought she was a genius. This memory often comes up for me when I am meeting with people who talk about hiding their online shopping boxes that arrive on the doorstep. The negative narrative that starts and then the rush of trying to hide something you know is wrong. The packages I will often refer to as little packages of guilt being delivered to your doorstep. 

The physical effects of drinking start to catch up with you. I always really felt this in my stomach. My gut. Of course there is the hungover feeling but in time it was obvious that there was also stress being caused by my actions. This is exactly how it also felt when I was overspending. The stress of thinking of trying to make payments, where I would get money to pay the mortgage, thinking about talking to my husband about the balances on our credit cards. It was all so stressful. Physically it literally was painful. My body was giving me huge hints that my fire alarm was going off. We can’t let that fire alarm go off for too long before our home is starting to burn down. Those physical feelings are signs, your body is screaming at you. 

One of my favourite books was the “Shopaholic” series. I laughed through the whole series and related it to it so much. At that point I was a big supporter of “retail therapy”. People getting together and purposely going to spend money because they had a bad day and felt hard feelings and needed to feel better with retail therapy. It all sounds fun, until it isn’t. The next thing you know you have had influence from others in what to buy, caught in the moment and feeling that high of buying and you get home with bags and bags of regret. 

This is also how I used to feel with “girls night”. I LOVED a good “girls night”! Getting dressed up and drinking fancy cocktails. So fancy. So sophisticated……..So hungover. It was fun, until it wasn’t. Waking up with those same feelings I had when I went shopping and had no idea what I bought. Regret, shame etc. What did I say? What did I do? And in my case, where did I get this bruise!? 

Another parallel that I experienced a lot in both my alcohol and spending addiction was sleepless nights. Used to think that if I drank more before bed I would have a better sleep. I would ALWAYS wake up by 1:00 with a super dry mouth (hello water) and my thoughts racing. My mind often would race about the money I spent. I would wake up and think about the balance on my credit card. How did that happen? What did I buy? What am I going to do? I would feel so horrible about myself in both circumstances.

I will quit tomorrow. I will figure out my money tomorrow. Does tomorrow ever come? It never came for me. Trying to convince myself that it was ok today because tomorrow would be different. I would wake up the next day and it would all be perfect. It’s never been perfect. It will never be perfect. The good news is that today now feels really good! Most days! 

What’s hard is that when you start your recovery from alcohol you usually quit drinking. With spending, you can’t quit spending money. We can’t stop eating food (another parallel). 

What we have to find is balance, mindfulness, consciousness with our spending. It sounds easy but it can take some time and lots of practice with self compassion. Tapping into understanding our financial feelings is a big part of this. Lesson 4 will have all that info for you, here is a link to read it:

It is highly recommended when you are starting your Financial Sobriety that you start with an amount of money within your spending plan to spend on yourself. Some like to call it “fun money”. What this could look like is an amount of money you have carved out that you are still able to buy some things, not everything, but some things. 

When we stop drinking we usually abstain from drinking right away. With spending we have to ease into it as if we completely restrict ourselves from spending it starts to come from a place of scarcity and deprivation. This usually leads to a spending spree. 

Put spending boundaries around your “fun money”. How much can you put into a monthly spending plan? 

The thing I loved to spend my “fun money” on when I first started my Financial Sobriety was bubble bath, books, notebooks etc. I was still buying some things I loved but wasn’t buying the entire store. I would go to my favourite store to get my bubble bars every paycheque and get a new bubble bar and enjoy a beautiful bath that evening. It felt really good to be that intentional with my spending. I tried to be intentional with my drinking, but that never went well for me. 

Putting eating out into your spending plan is also something to do if you have the capacity. One of the biggest things that supports me in my recovery is connecting with others. Friends, family, others in recovery. Go out for coffee, go out for that meal. Just make sure you are including it in your spending plan and putting boundaries into place on how much you want to spend. 

Once we start to make different decisions with our money, just like we do with our drinking, life starts to feel different. Sometimes it feels really really hard, I don’t want to sugar coat it that it will feel fantastic at first. The healing journey is not linear, there will be bumps and bruises along the way. What I do know FOR SURE is that doing this work is so worth it. You are so worth it. You deserve this life. I’m here for you. 


Linda Parmar
Financial Sobriety Specialist