As strange as it may sound, an obsessive drive for power and wealth can be just as harmful as an addiction to drugs or alcohol. For some self-made millionaires and billionaires and other highly successful people, each new “win” is accompanied by a rush of euphoria not unlike the intoxication that comes with drug use. Although they enjoy the trappings of wealth - fancy cars, big houses, parties and vacations, it’s actually the challenge involved in sealing yet another successful deal that provides the unmistakable drug-like “high.”
The Role of Dopamine: How Power can be Addictive
In recent decades, researchers have learned that feelings of pleasure are associated with dopamine, a powerful chemical released in the nucleus accumbens – an area of the brain appropriately known as the “pleasure center.” Researchers have also determined that dopamine is released as a response to drugs and alcohol, as well as a variety of activities such as sex, eating, gambling or even shopping.
Dopamine, which also provides us with energy and motivation, is essential to life and survival. Without it, humans would have no interest in eating or sex and the species would soon cease to exist. Interestingly, an experiment in which mice were deprived of dopamine proved the point – the mice actually starved to death because they lacked the motivation to seek their next meal.
This is why stopping addictive behavior – including the drive for wealth and power – is not simply a matter of willpower. The brain’s wiring is powerful, but our gray matter doesn’t differentiate between beneficial activities and harmful behaviors, even when those behaviors may be life-threatening.
When Wealth and Power are Unhealthy
An obsession to wealth and power can cause a person to become increasingly involved with making money or gaining status. Everything else becomes secondary, including family, friends and health. In time, a person’s entire identity is wrapped up in making money or achieving more “wins”. People are judged not on their merits, but by achievement, power or the size of their financial holding.
People who are addicted to wealth and power tend to feel most powerful when they are dominating other people, with little patience for anything that stands in the way of the upward trajectory. They are often extremely competitive and have an overarching need to be right.
A person with such an addiction may experience paranoia and extreme restlessness, and in extreme cases may resort to irrational, destructive behavior such as manipulation or bribery to achieve goals and maintain the “high.”
The withdrawal of power can lead to powerful cravings for more, not unlike the cravings experienced by a person detoxing from alcohol or cocaine.
Addiction professionals believe that people who are addicted to wealth and power actually fear a loss of control and experience inner feelings of powerlessness. Addiction to power is often associated with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, shame and out-of-control perfectionism.
Like substance abuse and addiction, resolving an addiction to wealth and power requires hard work and commitment. However, treatment can help an individual gain greater self-awareness and learn healthy ways to regulate emotions. It’s very possible for an addicted person to enjoy a healthy, rewarding life where work, money and power are in proper balance with family, friends and health.
The Danger of Cross Addictions
Addiction treatment or rehab can help individuals avoid cross-addictions. Because the addicted brain craves dopamine, people are often compelled to seek out other behaviors to replace the addictive behavior. In time, that “substitute” behavior can become just as harmful as the problem it replaced. For example, a person who is addicted to wealth and power may resort to gambling, overeating, drugs and alcohol, pornography or other unhealthy sexual practices to achieve the pleasurable feelings that the brain craves.
Diagnosing Narcissistic personality disorder
Addiction to power and wealth are often telltale signs of narcissistic personality disorder, a not uncommon trait of highly successful and powerful people. They are often addicted to drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling, overeating etc. in order to escape their inner shame, their painful void of lack of nurturing in their childhood. They need constant distraction and excitement and are thus prone to engage in criminal behavior, building and destroying businesses, “empires”, relationships and families. Narcissists can be found in treatment centers when their world falls apart or the justice system sent them there. However, they hardly ever have the desire or the ability to change their lives for the better, therefore it is important to carefully diagnose them and help them as much as they can accept, not more, not less.