How to Recognize and Deal with Financial Addiction

By Tracy Wright
Financial Addiction

With so many people having spent a great portion of the past year at home, boredom and restlessness can set in, leading to bad habits. Besides indulging in an extra serving of extra potato chips or a second bowl of ice cream, many people may have looked toward risky financial behaviors like gambling or compulsive shopping to fill a hole in their lives. However, people may not be aware that taking this behavior too far could actually develop into a full-blown financial addiction.

Addiction is defined as “a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior or activity…” While many people link addiction to harmful chemicals like alcohol, drugs or nicotine, American Addiction Centers (AAC) tells us that addiction can occur in many forms.

“A behavioral, or process, addiction, can occur with all of the negative consequences in a person’s life minus the physical issues faced by people who compulsively engage in drug and alcohol abuse,” AAC reports.

Financial addictions are typically associated with gambling and compulsive shopping. A study in the Dialogues of Clinical Neuroscience says both shopping and gambling addictions are defined as impulse- control disorders, though genetics, biology, trauma or stress can also play a part.

Gambling can take on many forms such as visiting the casino and playing slot machines, online poker games and sports betting. Although the majority of gamblers are men, 25% of those suffering from gambling problems are women. The Mayo Clinic says that gambling triggers the reward system in the brain similar to drugs or alcohol.

Gambling becomes problematic when the behavior becomes compulsive. Betting more than planned, placing more frequent bets, or trying to beat losses by chasing other bigger gambles can lead to a depletion of savings, debt or even resorting to fraud to obtain more money for gambling. These can lead to ugly life consequences such as job instability or firing, marriage problems, bankruptcy, foreclosure and a destruction of the family.

What’s worse is these dire consequences can lead those to seek other addictive substances like drugs or alcohol to numb the pain, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Compulsive shopping is even more difficult to diagnose or recognize because shopping is seen by many as a harmless and fun activity. Many may assume that compulsive shoppers are mostly women, but studies have shown that this addiction affects about 6% of both women and men.

There are also several types of shopping addicts like compulsive shoppers who chase the sense of euphoria they feel when they purchase items; collector shoppers for those wishing to fill a set of items; image shoppers who buy expensive and branded items to fulfill self-esteem issues or try to fit in socially; and budget shoppers who are always chasing a deal and end up with items they don’t need.

When does shopping become a behavioral addiction? Shopping to improve your mood, purchasing an item to meet a level of satisfaction, obsessing about shopping, and not stopping the habit when you know you need to and when it affects your well-being, according to Good Therapy.

For both problem gamblers and shoppers, the behavior becomes problematic when people are risking themselves and their families for the sake of their habit. Family members and friends can help their loved ones recognize their behavior has become a problem and offer to walk with them through therapy, AAC recommends.

Once the person realizes they have a problem, it’s best for them to visit a mental health professional to discuss their addiction. The professional will assess them to determine the scope of their addiction and to get to the “why” of the problem. From there, ongoing cognitive behavioral therapy is often recommended for treatment. This may include developing preventive treatment plans that include identifying triggers for said behavior like people, places or situations and how to deal with said triggers.

Other recommendations may include family therapy, support groups or even medication if the root of the addiction is tied to depression or anxiety.

If you or a loved one is suffering from a financial addiction, learn more about these behavioral addictions and ways to get help at


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