Are you addicted to money and don’t even know it?


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When you think of addiction, you might automatically think of people who are dependent on drugs, alcohol, or food as a coping mechanism. But it’s also possible to be addicted to money. This issue can manifest itself through unhealthy behaviors such as gambling, frequent overspending, or extreme saving (yes, it’s possible to overdo a good thing).

Having an addiction to money can be harmful financially and emotionally; it can also put a strain on your personal relationships. Recognizing the signs of a money addiction can be the first step in making a recovery.

Read on to learn more, including:

  • Can you be addicted to money?
  • What are the signs of being addicted to money?
  • What impact does it have if you are addicted to money?
  • How can you recover from a money addiction?

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What Is Money Addiction?

Broadly speaking, addiction is defined as a chronic disease that leads people to engage in compulsive behaviors, even when the consequences of those behaviors may be negative. The precise cause of addiction isn’t known, but it is believed to be a combination of a person’s genetics, brain circuitry, environment, and life experience.

When someone has a money addiction, their compulsive behaviors are centered around money, and they may approach their finances in a way that’s outside the norm of what people typically do.

For example, having a lack of savings or too much debt are common financial challenges that many people face. If you’re an average person, you might try to remedy those issues by working on building a small emergency fund or creating a workable debt payoff plan. While the person’s finances might not be in great shape, there isn’t any indication of compulsive behavior.

Someone with a money addiction, on the other hand, will typically have a different relationship with their finances. They might commit to an aggressive savings plan, for example, because they believe they have to save even if it means sacrificing basic needs. Or they may compulsively shop for emotional fulfillment while turning a blind eye to their debt.

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Can You Be Addicted to Money?

Money addiction can be a real thing and is for many people. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the official manual of the American Psychiatric Association, specifically recognizes certain financial behaviors as addictive. For example, the DSM-V classifies gambling disorder as an addictive disorder.

Whether you end up addicted to money can depend in part on your experiences and the money values you developed in childhood. If you frequently ask yourself, “Why am I bad with money?” the answer could be that you learned negative financial behaviors from your parents and the people you grew up around. Genetics and biology also play roles.

What money addiction looks like for one person might be very different for another. And it can sometimes be difficult to recognize those behaviors as addictive. For example, someone who spends $20 a day on lottery tickets in the hope of someday winning the jackpot might not see that as compulsive or having a money addiction.

They could fail to realize how that behavior might be harming them financially because they’re so focused on the idea that they’ll win eventually.

How do you know if you have an addiction to money or are just bad at managing it? As mentioned, experiencing common money issues such as debt or a lack of savings can indicate that you might need to work on learning personal finance basics like budgeting. But there are other signs that could point to a full-fledged money addiction. Here are some signals:

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Life Revolving Around Obtaining Money

The first clue that you might be addicted to money is feeling obsessed with the idea of getting it. It’s one thing to wonder how you’re going to stretch your finances until your next paycheck; it’s another to spend most of your waking hours thinking about how to get money. If you often think of how you can obtain money instead of considering how to make the most of the money you do have, that could be a sign of a money addiction.

You don’t have to be broke to have this mindset either. You might be making $250,000 a year at your job, for example, but still not think it’s enough and constantly consider ways you could make more money.

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Engaging in Dangerous or Risky Behavior

Certain behaviors could signal a money addiction if they involve your taking big risks that you’re not necessarily comfortable with. For example, when a money addict gets paid, they might take that money to the casino instead of using it to pay bills. Their addictive mindset doesn’t allow them to factor in the risk that instead of winning big, they might lose it all.

Money addiction can play out in other ways that might not seem risky at first glance. Trading stock options or futures, for example, is something plenty of people do every day. If your guess about which way a stock will move pays off, you could net some decent profits.

Where that kind of behavior becomes problematic is if you’re constantly losing money, but you continue investing anyway. It’s similar to the person with a lottery ticket addiction. You keep telling yourself that your winning number is sure to come up eventually, but in the meantime, you’re steadily losing money.

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Not Wanting Others to Know Your Money Struggle

Covering up your money behaviors can be another strong hint that you have a financial addiction. That includes things like hiding receipts, credit card bills, or bank statements, or hiding the things you’re purchasing from a spouse, significant other, or another family member. You may act defensive or defiant when someone tries to ask you about your money situation.

Here’s another simple test to determine if you’re addicted to money. If you have to ask yourself, “Why do I feel guilty spending money?“, that could suggest that you know there’s a problem with what you’re doing.

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Living in Denial About Spending

Your spending patterns can be one of the best gauges of whether you have a money addiction, provided you own up to them. Avoiding your financial life can be a symptom: If you shy away from checking your bank statements or adding up how much credit card debt you have, those could be red flags for money addiction.

Understanding why you spend the way you do can be a first step toward recovery. For instance, there’s a difference between compulsive vs. impulsive spending. Knowing which one you engage in more often can help you identify the triggers that are leading to bad money habits.

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Unwilling and Unable to Change Money Habits

Another sign of money addiction is a sense of resignation, or knowing that you have a problem with money but not doing anything about it. You might feel ashamed to let someone else know that you need help with money, for instance. Or you might take the attitude that things have been the way they are for so long already that there’s no point in trying to change the situation.

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Fearing the Loss of Money

No one wants to lose money but having an unnatural fear of doing so could be a clue to a money addiction. Being afraid of losses can keep you from making smart decisions with your money that could actually improve your financial situation. For example, you might be so afraid of losing money in the stock market that you never invest at all. In the meantime, you could potentially miss out on thousands of dollars in compound interest growth. Or it might have you working 24/7 and never enjoying downtime because you are so focused on making as much as possible to avoid feeling poor.

Another expression of money addiction could be saving so much that you have very little spending money. If you feel compelled to save a certain possibly excessive amount, it could keep you from paying bills on time and enjoying the occasional dinner out or movie because you feel every penny must go into your bank account. This behavior can be akin to hoarding and can likewise interfere with daily life.

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Effects of Money Addiction

How money addiction affects you personally can depend on what form your addictive behaviors take. Generally, there are a number of negative side effects you might deal with as a result of money addiction, including:

  • Constantly feeling worried or stressed over money
  • Failing to set or reach financial goals
  • Carrying large amounts of debt
  • Having little to no money in savings
  • Missing out on legitimate opportunities to grow your money
  • Getting no enjoyment from the money that you do have
  • Living with a scarcity mindset
  • Having strained personal relationships because of money.

In short, money addiction can keep you from having the kind of financial life and daily life that you want. The longer you’re addicted to money without addressing the causes, the more significant the financial and emotional damage might be. The sooner you learn to manage money better, the less you will pay (literally and figuratively) for it.

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Tips to Recover From Money Addiction

If you have a money addiction, you don’t have to stay stuck with it. There are things you can do to cope with and manage an addiction to money, similar to how you’d deal with any other type of addiction.

Improving your money mindset can lead to positive actions and break the addictive cycle. Here are some key steps on your path to recovery.

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Being Honest

Before you can break your addiction to money, you first need to be honest with yourself that you have a problem. It can be difficult to acknowledge that you have an issue with money, but it’s necessary to identify what’s behind your compulsive behaviors.

You may also need to come clean with others around you if your financial behaviors have affected them directly or indirectly. For example, if you’re hiding $50,000 in credit card debt from your spouse, that’s a conversation you need to have. They probably won’t be thrilled to hear that you’ve run up so much debt, but they can’t help you address the problem if they don’t know about it.

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Seeking Help

Fixing a money addiction might not be something you can do on your own. You might need professional help, which can include talking to a qualified therapist to understand your money behaviors and improve them. Or it could mean working with a nonprofit credit counseling company to hammer out a budget and a financial plan for getting back on track. Or it might mean taking both of these steps.

Even having an accountability partner can be helpful if you’re struggling with overspending. Any time you’re tempted to make an impulse buy, you can call up your accountability buddy and ask them to talk you through it until the urge to spend passes.

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Using Money for Good

Money isn’t an inherently bad thing, and it can do a lot of good if you know how to use it. If you have negative associations with money, you can help turn that around by using it for positive purposes.

For example, you might start making a regular donation to a charitable cause you believe in. Or if you’ve neglected saving in favor of spending, you might try paying yourself first by putting part of every paycheck into a high-interest savings account. Prioritizing savings and focusing on your needs vs. wants can be a form of financial self-care that can help with breaking a money addiction.

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Understanding Why Basing Your Self-Worth on Money Is Unhealthy

When you’re addicted to money, you might have a mindset that the amount of money you have determines your value. That’s an easy trap to fall into if you spend a lot of time on social media, where you’re likely to see a steady stream of influencers living dream lives. You can end up in a cycle of FOMO (or fear of missing out) spending in an effort to live a lifestyle that you can’t really afford.

That’s not a healthy place to be financially or mentally because you can find yourself constantly chasing “things” in order to feel whole. Recognizing that your self-worth goes beyond how much money you have in your bank account or which designer brands you wear can be a key step in recovering from a money addiction.

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The Takeaway

Money addiction can strain or even wreck your finances, but it doesn’t have to. If you identify the issue and then are willing to take steps to manage it, you may well be able to thrive. Consider taking some first steps, whether that means opening a new bank account for savings and automating deposits into it or contacting a credit counselor. Moves like these can help you develop a positive relationship with money.

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What is it called when you are addicted to money?

It’s called a money addiction when you have an unhealthy relationship with money that leads to compulsive or dangerous behaviors. Being addicted to money means that you have an emotional or mental dependence on it that can have potentially harmful side effects.

Can saving money be an addiction?

Saving money can be an addiction if you’re so focused on saving that you neglect meeting your basic needs or you’re blind to your ability to use money for good. If you’re only interested in seeing your savings account balance go up, you might miss out on opportunities to put your money to work in other ways or enjoy life.

Does money create dopamine?

The release of dopamine in the body is associated with pleasurable or novel experiences. If you get a rush from certain money behaviors, like saving excessively or impulse shopping, then that’s a sign that those behaviors might be triggering a dopamine release.

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