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don’t let tax day be an addiction trigger.
April 14, 2017

Tax Day – How to Handle This Common Trigger for Addiction Relapse

don’t let tax day be an addiction trigger.It’s probably safe to say that everyone dislikes Tax Day. When April 15 arrives, along with the date on the calendar is the sometimes aggravating, sometimes worrisome, always necessary requirement to file and possibly pay taxes that are due. For some, having put careful thought into the amount of withholding or set money aside to pay for at least what is estimated to be due, it’s not that big a deal. Others, however, face quite a different experience. For some in recovery, Tax Day can even be a trigger for addiction relapse.

How can you handle this situation? While unnerving, Tax Day doesn’t have to cue triggers that ratchet up stress that results in relapse. There are some precautions, steps and coping measures that you can use – or help your loved one in recovery use – to potentially prevent relapse.


Finances are among the biggest stressors triggering addiction relapse, along with relationships, work and health. When money is tight, especially around Tax Day when you may be facing a bill you can’t pay, the temptation to resort to alcohol or drugs to numb the pain and take away the problems your facing can be overwhelming.

It’s not just you that worry about making ends meet. You’re also keenly aware that your family and loved ones are dependent on you to figure out finances. Even if you’re a co- or equal contributor to the family finances, the bite out of your savings from Tax Day can push you over the edge if you’re not vigilant.


Just as having less money can trigger addiction relapse, the opposite is also true. Knowing you’re sitting comfortably financially may mean that you aren’t anxious or worried about paying your taxes, but having too much money may make you overconfident that you can easily handle anything. You may convince yourself that you can afford to go out and party and escape the consequences. You should know by now, though, that there’s no such thing as “having just one” or being able to drink or do drugs this one time and get away with it.


Whether you’re dealing with the reality of too little or too much money and how to reconcile this fact with your tax bill coming due, the wise course of action to avoid taxes triggering addiction relapse is to have a sound strategy in place and a solid action plan you can implement right away.

  • Get started early. The longer you wait to ferret out necessary receipts and gather the appropriate information to properly complete your taxes and pay what’s due (or receive a refund), the more pressure you’ll put on yourself. That mounting pile of unpaid bills serves as another potent trigger adding to your unease and desire to escape. Increased pressure leads to mounting stress, which can make escaping your problems with alcohol or drugs seem like a reasonable coping measure. It’s not. Do yourself a favor and make this a priority item. After all, maintaining your recovery is job one. Getting Tax Day out of the way with advance preparation and the required hard work is well worth it to save your sobriety.
  • Hire a professional. The days of easy-to-complete tax returns is long past. The added complexity of the Internal Revenue Service tax code makes it next to impossible for the average person to adequately figure out their return. Why add to your anxiety and lose sleep over your taxes when you can hire a licensed and certified tax professional to do the job for you. These include certified public accountants (CPAs), tax attorneys, and tax services available online and through software you can purchase. Not only will your taxes be filed properly, they’ll be done quickly and relatively painlessly on your part. Granted, these services aren’t free, but the fees are competitive. Another plus is the peace of mind you receive knowing that this annual burden has been made a little easier for you. Add to that the fact that you’re less likely to want to drown your sorrows in your drug of choice and it makes sense to let the pros take care of this obligation.
  • Allocate resources to pay the tax bill. If you know or suspect that you’ll owe taxes to the IRS, state and/or local entities this year, take some time to figure out where that money will come from. If substantial, you may need to take out a loan, withdraw from your savings accounts or borrow the money from a family member or friend. The lesson here is that not paying your taxes will only result in penalties, fines and potentially jail time. There’s no sense adding more negatives to a situation that deserves prompt attention. One resolve that should come from taking this unpleasant but necessary step is to pay more attention to your situation now in preparation for next year. Adjust withholding at work or have an automatic transfer to a savings account you hold strictly for taxes. Watch what you buy or services you use with an eye toward whether it may be tax deductible. As an example, expenses related to drug and alcohol addiction treatment may be deductible.
  • Spend time with your support group, family and loved ones. Anyone in recovery knows that the unexpected or negative can precipitate a downward spiral to addiction relapse. If you know that Tax Day brings out the worst in you, and you’re feeling the strong urge to drink, get high and forget your troubles, it’s imperative that you take advantage of the understanding and encouragement available through your support group, your family and loved ones. Just being with them may be enough to help you get past this rough spot. If it helps keep you from relapse, isn’t it worth the time it takes to make the trip, pick up the phone, drop by or spend time with them?
  • Know what sets you off. If others at work suggest going out to drink on Tax Day, or make other references to partying to forget about finances, this could be a trigger. Just as the sound of ice cubes in a glass or the smell of marijuana as you pass by someone smoking on the street can set you off, encouragement to engage in behaviors you’ve worked hard to overcome can lead to your downfall. Be prepared to deal with such triggers by having a plan in place ahead of time. This is a case where it’s better to be prepared than to flounder and come up short when the trigger surfaces.
  • Learn how to manage stress. When stress about Tax Day becomes too much to handle, threatening your sobriety and putting you in an emotional turmoil, one thing you can do is be proactive and learn how to manage stress. Engage in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, walking in nature and other healthy ways to curb stress.
  • Focus on the positive. As you’ve learned in dealing with other problems that could potentially threaten your recovery, it’s important to remind yourself of the positives in your life. You’ve made substantial progress thus far, navigated many of life’s ups and downs, relied on your support network and family and made well-informed choices. What’s important to you now is continuing this forward path. You can do this. You can handle Tax Day and maintain your sobriety.