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Ask Chuck: My Spouse is an addict

Ask Chuck your money question

Dear Chuck,

My husband started short-term disability in order to address addiction issues. He is the sole provider for our family. Recently, he moved $100,000 from his 401k to cover our debt and bills while he seeks to get well. Do you think paying off all debt is wise (except for our mortgage), or do you have a better suggestion? 

Supporting My Addict 

Chuck Bentley
(Courtesy of Christian Economic Forum)

Dear Supporting My Addict, 

I am so sorry for your difficult circumstances; yet, I am grateful you have some options to help you while your husband recovers. Lord willing, he will shake his addiction and begin to rebuild your financial reserves. 

It would help to know your age and overall financial picture; regardless, I will provide some information and advice that I believe will help you navigate this. 

Addiction in America 

Unfortunately, your painful circumstances are not unique. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that 19.7 million American adults (ages 12 and up) battled a substance use disorder in 2017. The American Psychological Association reports a rise in abuse because of the stress COVID-19 has brought upon many. Statistics can be found here. The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports findings here. Tobacco, alcohol, drug abuse, mental illness, and treatment statistics are presented within the PDF. These problems not only have the capacity to ruin lives, but they can also ruin entire families. There are a number of support groups for families going through this trial. Celebrate Recovery is one I have heard many good things about.

Managing through it 

Your husband obviously wants to make sure you are taken care of during this time. Thankfully, he had money set aside in a 401(k). It is generally advised to take out the bare minimum needed because of the penalty and taxes involved. If you are under 59 1/2, you will have to pay a 10% penalty plus taxes on that income. If you were approved for a hardship withdrawal, you may still face taxes and penalties. Do your research so you will not be caught off guard. Keep records of all transactions. There are other options for withdrawing funds, and those can be found here

Should you pay off all debt? It can reduce stress and improve your credit score. Make sure you can keep up with your mortgage and have the ability to cover repairs and maintenance. The same goes for a car. An emergency fund can prevent the need to borrow in the future. Pay off debt that has high interest and is costing you in penalties. Live frugally during this time so you can reinvest the money borrowed from the 401(k). 

While encouraging your husband during this time, it is important to consider the following:   

  • The House: You may need to sell and move to something more affordable. Seek wise counsel from a trusted friend or realtor. It may be financially profitable to rent out your home or Airbnb it while you move to something cheaper or live with family or friends. Consider all available options. 
  • Wise Counsel: I highly recommend the help of someone who has walked in your shoes or is trained to encourage you through this time. 
  • Faithful Community: It is not uncommon to retreat during times of pain. That is exactly what the enemy wants you to do. He’ll try to burden you with embarrassment, shame, or guilt. But, you need the Body of Christ and a safe community to encourage, help, and pray for you. 
  • New Friends: If your husband’s addiction was buoyed by old friends, pray for new ones. My wife asked the Lord to give us couples who were solid in their faith. We needed friends we enjoyed and could trust with prayer requests. He delivered in a powerful way and can for you, too. 
  • Self-Improvement: Even if your husband is the sole provider, strengthen your job skills should it become necessary for you to earn income. You can enhance your marketability from your own home with a computer. Check out massive open online courses (MOOCs) from places like EdX, Udemy and Coursera. Note the 10 most important work skills of 2020. You may also qualify for free classes at your local community college. 
  • Child Care: Accept the help of friends and family. You need to take care of yourself to reduce your stress. Getting a break is important and can be a delightful time for children who get extra attention in a safe environment. 
  • Remember Proverbs 31: Ask the Lord to give you strength, focus, and faith as you walk with Him in the days ahead. 

If you are overwhelmed with the burden of financial difficulties, check out our Budget Coaching program. It can match you with one of our certified coaches to analyze your situation and develop a personalized spending plan and debt-elimination strategy. If other families reading this do not have the financial cushion your husband and you have and are experiencing problems managing debt, check out Christian Credit Counselors. 

Praying for your husband to recover and for you and the family as you manage your finances and circumstances well. Stay strong. May God sustain you in and through your pain.

Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, a global Christian ministry, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is the host of a daily radio broadcast, My MoneyLife, featured on more than 1,000 Christian Music and Talk stations in the U.S., and author of his most recent book, Seven Gray Swans: Trends that Threaten Our Financial Future. Be sure to follow Crown on Facebook.

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