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(December 2007)

What is Compulsive Spending?

The holidays are a perfect time to discuss compulsive spending.  Isn’t everyone a compulsive spender when the holidays roll around?  Doesn’t our country encourage overspending at this time of year?  Isn’t racking up the credit cards the American way of life?

Unfortunately, all of the above questions can be answered with a yes. 

But for most women (the gender most prone to compulsive spending problems; although men when they do overspend, tend to do so with big-ticket items), some sort of limit is kept and the compulsive spending is limited to the holiday season.

For others, the spending has no limit, no season, and, in most cases, no reason.  We laugh and call it the spending cure.  But the humor is gone when it becomes addictive.  We frantically exchange our hard earned dollars for things that no more fill up the empty space inside of us, that emotional black hole, than cocaine, alcohol, or chocolate cake.

As with other addictions, there are the signs of craving, withdrawal, post-spending remorse, and a loved one who feels hurt and damaged by our behavior.

When Does Gambling Become a Problem?

Gambling has also become a national pastime fueled by two major developments in the gaming industry, which has brought casinos into our neighborhoods and even right into our living room through the internet.  No longer must one trek to Reno or Las Vegas or find some bookie in the corner tavern.  Entertainment, gourmet dining, lavish hostelries up the attraction level.  Why, it’s even become patriotic!  After all, aren’t we funding our schools with gambling revenues?

Most of the women I’ve encountered in my practice who are afflicted with gambling fever are emotionally empty, angry, and sometimes socially limited by their own fears of being out in the world.  A bus trip to the nearest casino is a social event.  Secretive gambling is a way to get even with a spouse who controls your pocketbook. 

How do you know if gambling has become a problem for you?  It’s not how much money has been lost any more than the alcoholic realizes she has a problem by how many drinks she has.  Ask yourself two questions. 

Do I ever gamble more money than I intended to?  With the convenience of hotel accommodations, women with gambling problems find themselves staying over rather than facing the music that they are down several thousand dollars.  Or they intended to gamble only the three hundred dollars they came with but find the ATM a handy source for much more. 

Is anyone who loves me concerned about my gambling?  Spouses, grown children, employers, and even best friends are dropping hints or making ultimatums.  That doesn’t happen with the occasional, recreational gambler.

Answering the Twenty Questions from Gamblers Anonymous can also be helpful.  Find these at Gamblers Anonymous.

What Are the Resources Available to the Compulsive Spender or Gambler? 

 Like other addictions, compulsive spending and gambling are best managed by participation in an appropriate Twelve Step Program.  There you learn that as with alcohol, drugs, or overeating, you must start by admitting that you are powerless over your spending habits or your gambling activities and that your life has become unmanageable.  Unmanageable can mean that you are depressed, that family is angry and accusing, that you have damaged or destroyed the family’s financial resources, or that you life focus has narrowed down to your compulsive habit and little else.

Find Help: 

Gamblers Anonymous 

Consumer Credit Counseling Advice on Compulsive Spending

Debtor’s Anonymous