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My Drug of Choice is “More”: Getting Real About Wealth Addiction

Jed Diamond, Ph.D. has been a health-care professional for more than 40 years. He is the author of 10 books, including MenAlive: Stop Killer Stress with Simple Energy Healing Tools, Surviving Male Menopause, and Mr. Mean: Saving Your Relationship from the Irritable Male Syndrome. I offer counseling to men, women, and couples in his office in California or by phone with people throughout the U.S. and around the world. To receive a Free E-book on Men’s Health and a free subscription to my e-newsletter go to http://facebook.com/menalivenow. If you enjoy my articles, please subscribe. I write to everyone who joins my tribe of followers.

The Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement named the core issue of our time: the overwhelming power of Wall Street and large corporations. Now it’s time we named the problem underlying this issue. It’s called Addiction. I’ve been treating addicts for more than forty years and when I hear the descriptions of those for whom millions and billions of dollars in wealth drives them to want more and more, I know we’re dealing with addiction. David Korten, author of the international best seller, When Corporations Rule the World and co-chair of the New Economy Working Group, says, “Wall Street is the symbolic center of an economic system that works for the 1% at the expense of the 99%.” He goes on to say, “Despite the crash of 2008, the financial assets of America’s billionaires and the idle cash of the most profitable corporations are now at historic highs. Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s billionaires set two records in 2011: total number (1,210) and combined wealth ($4.5 trillion).” I’m not saying that everyone who is in top 1% of wealth are addicts and I’m not saying that there aren’t people in the 99% majority who are also hooked on wanting more and more money, regardless of how much they have. I am saying that money can be as addicting as any drug and until be address addiction we aren’t going to be able to solve our financial problems or to create a sustainable economy that works for everyone.

What is Wealth Addiction?
Philip Slater has an A.B. and Ph. D. from Harvard and taught sociology at Harvard, Brandeis, and UCSC. He is the author of numerous books including Wealth Addiction. In a recent article for the Huffington Post he says, “Those who devote their entire lives to amassing or retaining huge sums of money are neurotically addicted, trying to fill an inner void with money. And since such psychic voids cannot be filled with money--any more than with alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, food, or sex--even a billion dollars doesn't satisfy them.” Slater goes on to say that “what's unique about wealth addiction is that it's the only pursuit in our society for which excess is not only tolerated but encouraged. In all others we make a distinction between indulgence and over-indulgence--between enjoyment and abuse, between free choice and inner compulsion.” But for addicts “enough is never enough.” The more they

have the greater void they feel and the more they need to have to fill the void. “The test of whether or not a person is addicted is his or her ability to decide how much is enough,” says Slater. We say people who can't stop drinking when they've had enough are alcoholics. We say people who can't stop eating when they've had enough are food addicts. We say that people who can’t stop gambling when they know they should quit are gambling addicts. “But people with a billion dollars who can't stop trying to make more,” says Slater, “we call successful.” Anne Wilson Schaef is an expert on addictions. In her book, When Society Becomes an Addict, she recognized the addictions go beyond the use of alcohol and drugs and that we were increasingly living in an addictive system. “In our culture the process of accumulating money often becomes addictive,” says Schaef. “Like any other addiction it is progressive; it takes more and more to achieve a fix, and eventually no amount is enough. People caught up in this process use it to avoid dealing with being human and confronting human feelings. They look outside for a solution rather than face the feelings inside. Often they do not care about money in and of itself; what drives them is the series of actions and interactions involved in accumulating it.”

My Drug of Choice is “More”: How Do We Recognize Addiction?
In order to have a better understand of Wealth Addiction, we have to look more closely at the nature of all addictions. In working with addictions for many years I have found there are three indicators of addictions: 1. Compulsion. Although many addicts are fine people, when they are hooked on their “drug of choice,” they become compulsive. They are driven, always scanning their surroundings for their next “fix.” Whether they are addicted to alcohol, cocaine, gambling, food, or money, they are never comfortable and easy. They operate in “must have” mode. 2. Loss of Control. All addicts set limits on their behavior. “This is my last drink,” one may say. Another may swear off eating chocolate. Someone else may say they’re only going to smoke marijuana on weekends. Every addict finds they can’t consistently control how much or how often they use. It may work for a time, but the boundaries are always breached and their use increases. 3. Continued use despite consequences. This is the core indicator of an addiction. Most of us overdo our drinking, drugs, or

other behavior. But when we have to pay the consequences, we change our behavior. Addicts can’t do that. Even when they find they are harming themselves and harming Those they care about, they aren’t able to stop. They will lie, cheat, and steal. They know they should stop, but until they get help and get in recovery, the destructive behavior continues. I’ve worked with people who have become addicted to everything from heroin to gambling, cocaine to food, cigarettes to sex. Every addict has certain things they prefer that will get them high or take away the pain. But all addicts will use other things if their “drug of choice” isn’t available. Heroin addicts prefer heroin, but will use alcohol if their drug of choice isn’t available. Cocaine addicts like cocaine, but will use amphetamines if they have to. I was surprised when one of the addicts I had been treating told me, “my drug of choice is…more.” I asked him what he meant. “I’ve used all kinds of drugs in my life and gotten addicted to every pleasurable activity imaginable,” he said. “But the truth is that whatever the substance or behavior, I want more. Too much is never enough for me.” I realized that we all have a tendency to use more of what ever feels good. Addicts are not really that different from the rest of us. We live in a world where we have come to believe there are no limits. We think we can use more and more of whatever we want and there will always be more where that came from.

The Party’s Over, Enough is Enough: Learning to Live Within Limits
In his book, The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies, Richard Heinberg says, “The world is changing before our eyes—dramatically, inevitably, and irreversibly. The change we are seeing is affecting more people, and more profoundly, than any that human beings have ever witnessed. I am not referring to a war or terrorist incident, a stock market crash, or global warming, but to a more fundamental reality that is driving terrorism, war, economic swings, climate change, and more: the discovery and exhaustion of fossil energy resources.” “Peak oil” has become part of the social discussion as we recognize the reality that we are reaching the limits of easily available fossil fuels. But as Heinberg and others point out, we are reaching the limits of all our resources on the planet. In his follow-up book, Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines, he demonstrates that we’re not just running low on oil, but also natural gas and coal. And it doesn’t stop there. “In the course of the present century we will see an end to growth and a commencement of decline in all of these parameters,” says Heinberg.   Population Grain production

     

Uranium production Climate stability Fresh water Arable land for growing food Wild fish harvests Yearly extraction of many important minerals, including copper, platinum, silver, gold, and zinc

No addict wants to stop using. They only stop when they have to, when they have reached bottom. Wealth addicts are no different. Those who went on a binge that nearly caused a collapse in the world economy, are back at it. They are making more money, getting big bonuses, and looking for the next big score. But every addict reaches a point where they must go into recovery or die. We are reaching that point.

The End of Wealth Addiction: Coming Together of the 99% and the 1%
Some kinds of addictions require the user to give up their drug forever. Heroin addicts find they must give up their heroin, alcoholics must give up drinking, and cocaine addicts must Give up their drug. However, other addictions require the user to learn to live within limits. Food addicts can’t give up eating, but they must learn to eat in a healthy way. Wealth addicts can’t give up making money, they need to learn to live within limits. Most of us have heard of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and their commitment to give away billions of dollars to help improve the lives of others. And they are not alone. In 2010 Thirtyfour U.S. billionaires pledged to give away at least 50 per cent of their wealth to charity as part of a campaign by investor Warren Buffett and Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Among the billionaires joining the campaign are New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, entertainment executive Barry Diller, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens, media mogul Ted Turner, banker David Rockefeller and investor Ronald Perelman. The campaign continues and more and more people of wealth are recognizing their connection with the rest of humanity and are putting their money where it can do the most good. You can see who has made the commitment at www.givingpledge.org. The names go from A to Z, Paul G. Allen to Mark Zuckerberg. “While the Giving Pledge is specifically focused on billionaires,” the site says, “the idea takes its inspiration from efforts in the past and at present that encourage and recognize givers of all financial means and backgrounds. We are inspired by the example set by millions of Americans who give generously (and often at great personal sacrifice) to make the world a better place.” Creating a more balanced world of wealth is what the Occupy Movement is about and the benefits help everyone.

How Inequality Poisons Society and Why Equity Benefits Everyone
Richard Wilkinson is professor (emeritus) of social epidemiology, University of Nottingham Medical School. In his latest book The Spirit Level: why more equal societies almost always do better, he says, “In societies where income differences between rich and poor are smaller, the statistics show that community life is stronger and more people feel they can trust others. There is also less violence – including lower homicide rates; health tends to be better and life expectancy is higher. In fact most of the problems related to relative deprivation are reduced; prison populations are smaller, teenage birth rates are lower, maths and literacy scores tend to be higher, and there is less obesity.” This is good news for everyone, rich, poor, and all of us in between. The idea that a growing economy will solve our problems turns out to be false. The solution isn’t to reduce the number of poor people in the world, but to redistribute income so we have societies that are more equal. Everyone doesn’t have to have the same degree of wealth. We just need to reduce the huge differences between the 1% and the 99%. “Although economic growth remains important in poorer countries, across the richest 25 or 30 countries, there is no tendency whatsoever for health to be better among the most affluent rather than the least affluent of these rich countries.” What matters most is not our absolute level of income, but where we stand in relation to others. If everyone is doing well or everyone is doing poorly, it doesn’t cause as much stress as when some are doing very well and others are doing very poorly. “The issue is social status and relative income,” says Wilkinson. “So for example, why the USA has the highest homicide rates, the highest teenage pregnancy rates, the highest rates of imprisonment, and comes about 28th in the international league table of life expectancy, is because it also has the biggest income differences.” In contrast, countries like Japan, Sweden and Norway, although not as rich as the US, all have smaller income differences and do well on all these measures. Even among the 50 states of the USA, those with smaller income differences perform as well as more egalitarian countries on most of these measures. So, let’s share the wealth. Whatever your level of income, whatever your economic status, the more equality we have in our communities, the better off everyone will be.

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