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Facing the Signs of Debt Addiction

If you are stuck in a never-ending cycle of indebtedness, regardless of changes in income, you may be in denial.

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Financial problems come and go, but if you are stuck in a never-ending cycle of indebtedness, regardless of increases in income and other changes in your financial situation, you may be addicted to debt. If so, you can’t fix it on your own—you’ll need professional help. It starts with facing the signs of debt addiction.

However, while most of us will admit to struggling with debt at one time or another, very few, unless forced to by a major financial crisis—and often not even then—will admit to being actually addicted to debt. In fact, when we are being crushed by debt, we tend to view it as something or somebody else’s fault (my spouse, my kids, the economy), not a result of our own choices. But the question remains: are you a compulsive debtor?

Here are some of the classic signs of debt addiction:

Worrying about debts keeps you awake a night or interferes with your work and life during the day.

You dodge calls from creditors or other people you owe money to.

Using a credit card to pay for a purchase is a game of Russian roulette, with you never being sure if the charge will be authorized and nervously reviewing whether one of the other cards in your wallet or purse will work if the one you’ve used is rejected. And even if it goes through, you have no idea where you will get the money from to pay the credit card bill when the charges hit.

The above are all signs of the helplessness and lack of control common to all addictions, including to debt-creating behavior.

You often use credit as a substitute for cash you don’t have to cover basic household expenses such a rent, utilities and food. Essentially, you’re taking out a loan to cover costs that should be financed by your income.

You avoid facing the truth of your financial situation. You won’t open the mail or balance your check book. You don’t know, and don’t want to know, the total of how much you owe, who you owe it to or what penalties and fees are accruing.

You engage in so-called “retail therapy” (also known as shopping), eat, drink, or get high to escape the stress of debt and forget your money problems. Of course, as with any attempt to self-medicate an addiction, it only makes matters worse, intensifying the cycle of financial self-destruction.

You spend lavishly and often, comforting yourself with the notion that you’ll get rid of your debt and focus on saving when you make more money, get that big bonus or finally hit the lottery. Someday.

You are constantly borrowing money from friends and relatives—often to make payments on money you owe to other friends and relatives.

You hide or lie to friends and family members, including your spouse or partner, about purchases you’ve made.

You can’t pay your taxes. You don’t save to pay them and you never have any money left over to meet your obligations when they come due.

Surviving a crisis does not change your habit. Sometimes, the prayer for windfall does come through—an unexpected bonus at work, a major cash bailout from a relative, a chance to make extra money on the weekends. You’re able to avoid that bankruptcy or losing your home to foreclosure. But you don’t see that as a chance to get rid of your debt, put away some savings, and get a fresh start. No, it’s time to spend all of the unexpected income and then some celebrating (see self-medication activities, above) your good fortune, often with lavish gifts and entertainment for family and friends. When the money runs out, you’re right back were you started before you got it—or in an even deeper hole.

Because it is a socially acceptable addiction, compulsive debt creation often not only goes untreated, but is actually encouraged, especially in an economy with an engine fueled by consumer spending. However, debt addiction is serious, and can be just as destructive to individuals, families and communities as any other addiction, so it’s important that we recognize and deal with it when we see it, especially if we see it in the mirror.

This brings me to what I believe is the number one sign of debt addiction:

Denial, typically characterized by an absolute refusal to seek professional help even when the person’s financial health and their family’s stability is threatened by their compulsive spending and debt habit. I personally know of cases where once law-abiding, educated, responsible (and yes, even religious) people turned to criminal activity to deal with their debt, rather than getting the help they need to break the debt accumulation cycle.

If this is you or someone you know, please, for your sake and those who care about and depend on you, get the professional help you need. If you don’t really have a problem, you have nothing to lose. If you do, you could lose everything if you don’t take action.

Set up an appointment today with a certified credit counselor via the National Foundation for Credit Counseling at DebtAdvice.org. Also, identify and join a local chapter of Debtors Anonymous at DebtorsAnonymous.org. Whatever you do, don’t remain in a state of denial.

This blog is dedicated to my thoughts about money, entrepreneurship, leadership, mentorship and other things I need to get #OffMyChest. Follow me on Twitter at @AlfredEdmondJr.

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  • http://www.neuro-sculpting.com/brain-fitness-blog T. Lavon Lawrence

    Excellent piece! The Debt Industrial Complex thrives by virtue of encouraging addiction to ‘credit’ (they call it credit card rather than a debt card for a reason) and smart people inevitably wake up and realize the con being perpetrated through manipulation of our desire, emotions, and self-image. We can’t own our life until we make sure that nobody owns our money, so it’s better to live simply and frugally while free than to be chained in a cycle of continual ‘owing’. Readers who want to make beginning steps to freeing themselves from this contemporary form of slavery should look up the concept of the Debt Snowball as a basic means of escaping the debt plantation.

    • alfrededmondjr

      T. Lavon, you are SO on point with this comment that all I can do is say: “AMEN! Listen to the man!” Thanks for weighing in, Bruh!

  • Maxine Sinclair

    I have to confess that one of the areas in my life has always been managing money. I’ve been so disciplined in other areas of my life, but I find myself always under water when it comes to my finances. Now I truly see why marriages fall apart because when there is no extra money after all the bills are paid or not enough to get you through the next payday, it becomes crippling and stifling. I am learning to say “no” more often for going out for that drink or eating at that restaurant I can’t afford, but I truly need a class on how I can get control of my finances, it’s killing me to live this way.

    • alfrededmondjr

      Maxine, the fact that you are aware of the problem and can express it so articulately is a major positive sign that you can get a grip on your finances. I urge you to contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling at DebtAdvice.org; they can identify a local accredited counseling agency that can help you get the financial education you need. Read the Money sections of Black Enterprise Magazine and BlackEnterprise.com for more guidance. Also, you can tune in to my Money Matters radio feature on your local radio station or at AURN.com to get daily advice from me. You CAN get control of your finances and enjoy your life. I’m praying for your financial freedom. Thanks so much for sharing your experience! Alfred