Addiction Beyond Substance Abuse

Physician's Money Digest, July 2007, Volume 14, Issue 7

Not all forms of addiction are based on substance abuse. Other compulsions can be equally devastating both financially and emotionally. The following is a case study by Michael F. Myers, MD, a regular contributor to Physician’s Money Digest:

Dr. Astor was a 35-year-old single radiologist who came in with the chief complaint of “I think I’ve become a shopaholic. I buy clothes every day of the week. It’s so bad that I have no closet space anymore. My den is piled with boxes of shoes, dresses in garment bags, sweaters that have never been taken out of the shopping bag. I even have duplicates—and triplicates—of some boots (my biggest weakness) that I forgot I already purchased but have never worn. I’m a cosmetic addict too. I have more makeup than a theater company.”

Other factors confirmed the diagnosis of addiction: Dr. Astor could not stop shopping (attempts lasted no more than 2 days); she was now playing online poker and could not estimate her losses; she could no longer completely pay off her credit card bills (over $5000 per month); and she increasingly called in sick and missed work in order to shop or gamble. She acknowledged that she was out of control and needed help. She also knew that she was vulnerable; more specifically, although she did not drink alcohol or use street drugs or self-prescribe, both of her parents and two of her brothers were alcoholics.

The potential for devastating her personal finances is clear. Although a "shopping addiction" may seem harmless or even fodder for jokes, the end result is no laughing matter. As highlighted by Dr. Myers, Dr. Astor's addiction was affecting her practicing medicine and could have destroyed the life she worked so hard to build.

The good news is that recognizing this addiction for what it is is the first step toward conquering it and salvaging financial well-being.