Financial advisor Catherine Seeber finally had her eyes opened to her son’s addiction to pills when she discovered he had taken money out of her purse. It was irrefutable evidence of his drug problems.

Part of the problem was his college engineering program, which required a familiar cocktail of drugs to both stay awake and go to sleep. But she also says that he’d had self-esteem problems as a youth and that drugs had been a problem before that. “It was a 10-year battle,” says Seeber, a CFP with Captrust based in Lewes, Del.

Since she started speaking about it, she’s become a magnet for other advisors in the industry wanting to talk about addiction issues with clients and about the financial devastation that the problem can wreak on families.

“I had 17 different bills to pay during my son’s most difficult years,” she says. “I only have one left now. … I was one of the lucky ones because I knew how to negotiate with the various facilities. I worked in the financial department as an accountant at a psychiatric hospital for 10 years prior to studying for my CFP and becoming a financial planner. There are resources available that people need to be aware of and think about before the crisis.”

There’s usually not one road to chemical dependency, and concentrating on the drug problem itself is usually not the right approach.

“In my humble opinion, it’s not the only issue that they are dealing with,” Seeber says. “In my son’s case, it was low self-esteem and desire to always be the best at everything. There was depression associated with that.” 

Addiction poses special problems for the wealthy, a world of access in which people can feel invincible, she says, and it puts them at more risk: “They think that they can pay their way out—that they can fix it with money.”

She was acquainted with the late chef Matt Haley, a Delmarva owner of multiple restaurants who turned his life around with cooking after a stint in prison, where he’d landed for drug crimes. While incarcerated, he realized he wanted to be a chef. He “not only became a success,” says Seeber, “but he [had] probably 13 different restaurants where he hires those that have struggled. And he became so famous and had so much money that it scared him. He didn’t want it. He viewed money as dirty. So he didn’t want any money in his bank account, and he kept giving it away. So he would set up orphanages in other countries.” (Haley was killed in a motorcycle accident in India, reportedly while on a humanitarian trip.)

Seeber says addicts feeding their habits lose their concept of money, and that’s a rude awakening when they become sober. It’s led some innovators in this space to come up with things like the Next Step card—a credit card with controls that keep users from spending money at liquor stores and bars.

Once someone becomes sober, their records are hurt and it’s hard to get integrated back into society. They have crushing debt. “They are 10 years behind their peers,” Seeber says. “And there’s not enough support in that financial reckoning.” It’s important, she says, that former addicts surround themselves with people who have been there, including employers who have a keen understanding of what’s happening.

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