Holiday Spending and Addictive Behaviors

Man at lake edge gazing at mountain

Contributed By: David Greenspan, content writer at Lighthouse Recovery Institute

solitude-455768_640Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, it’s time to break out the holiday sweaters and cute ornaments. It’s also time to check our bank accounts, wipe the sweat from our foreheads, take out those already stressed credit cards, and start buying gifts.

For better or worse, the holiday season is synonymous with spending money. It’s become a time to see family, stuff our faces, and watch our checking accounts slowly dwindle.

For those struggling with substance abuse, eating disorders, or other compulsive behaviors, this holiday spending can quickly become dangerous. Remember, the disease of addiction isn’t about what substance(s) someone uses. It’s about the thoughts and behaviors that made them turn to drugs in the first place.

Addictive Behaviors

Addictive behaviors can, and often do, manifest long before someone picks up a drink or a drug. It’s important to note the following behaviors and examples aren’t sure signs someone will grow up to struggle with substance abuse. Rather, they’re traits that appear common to many alcoholics and addicts.

Risk Taking

Addicts have been known to take serious risks in active addiction. As a man in long-term recovery myself, I can abundantly confirm this. Looking back on my life, though, I pushed the envelope well before I found drugs or alcohol.


Compulsivity goes hand-in-hand with risk taking. It also extends far beyond simply behaving recklessly. When I was a child, my mom made twice baked potatoes that were delicious. I would eat four or five at a time. In other words, I would compulsively eat these potatoes until I felt sick.


If there’s one defining behavior of addicts, I’d wager its defiance. No one likes to be told what to do, but those struggling with addiction seem to have a particularly hard time with direction. Again, speaking from experience, if my parents told me to clean the garage, I’d argue with them for two hours. I’d argue for far longer than it would have taken to simply complete the task.

Lack of Boundaries

feet-538245_640This can translate to lack of physical, emotional, or material boundaries. A lack of physical boundaries may be ignoring someone’s personal space. A lack of emotional boundaries may take the form of being emotionally manipulative of loved ones. A lack of material boundaries may be stealing.

Social Chameleon

Growing up, I never felt like I fit in. I’ve heard this from countless other addicts and alcoholics as well. My solution to this gut level discomfort was to sacrifice my own identity and do what “everyone else” was doing. My identity became whatever I thought others would like.


Much like defiance, dishonesty is a defining trait of many addicts. This is acutely obvious during active addiction, but can be seen long before drugs entered the picture. I lied from a young age. Sometimes they were large lies, sometimes they were tiny, and sometimes they were lies by omission. Regardless, dishonesty enabled many of the other addictive behavior listed here.

Anxiety (social and otherwise)

Anxiety is based in fear and fear drives addiction. I was scared of success and of failure. I was scared of people and of being alone. I was scared of anything and everything life had to offer.

Spending Money

Here we reach the crux of the article. Long before active addiction, and well into sobriety, I’ve had trouble managing money. I’ll overspend to make myself feel better. This, in my experience, is a prominent theme in many addicts’ lives.

Overspending to Fill a Void

see-80780_640Addiction is based in repeated compulsive behaviors despite negative consequences. Spending more money than is reasonable or responsible seems to fit right in.

So, why overspend? Why spend more money, for the holidays or otherwise, than is needed? Well, that’s where addiction and overspending intersect. Buying more gifts than is necessary, or treating yourself to excessive personal gifts, is out of the individual’s control.

Now, I’m not making the blanket statement that everyone is some sort of “holiday spending addict.” That’s as ridiculous as it sounds. Rather, I think the holidays magnify compulsive behavior that’s already present in many of us, addict or not.

It’s also important to remember that holiday spending doesn’t only take the form of overspending on gifts. It can appear if someone organizes a lavish holiday party. Does anyone really need three turkeys, four hams, sixteen sides, twenty cases of champagne (or nonalcoholic sparkling cider), an entire dancehall, and a forty-piece orchestra to celebrate the holidays?

Tools to Help Curb Holiday Spending

How can we help to curb holiday spending? Fortunately, there are various options, some of which are simple to implement. These include:

Make a Holiday Budget

This is probably the easiest way to avoid spending more money than you’d like during the holidays. Make a budget. Allocate a certain amount of money for gifts, a certain amount for festivities, a certain amount for travel, and a certain amount for yourself.

Keep Track of Holiday Spending

Go back and, based upon receipts or bank statements, tally up how much you’ve spent on the holidays for the last five years. Seeing the truth about your holiday spending habits on paper may just shake you up enough to curb spending.

Only Use Cash or a Debit Card

An easy way to avoid spending more money than you have is to spend only the money you have! I charge everything to my credit card and I doubt I’m alone in this habit. That being said, try paying for the holidays with only your debit card or cash. You’d be amazed how hard it is to overspend when you can’t overspend.

Seek Therapy for Overspending

Therapy is an invaluable tool for all sorts of issues. Maybe it’s time to treat overspending the same way you’d treat anxiety or depression. The results may just surprise you.

About the Author:

David Greenspan is a content writer at Lighthouse Recovery Institute ( He received a B.A. in Communications and Sociology from Florida Atlantic University.

David’s a lifelong fiction and poetry writer and has been published in numerous literary journals, including: Anti-, Berfrois, Gigantic, Mid-American Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and West Branch.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What are some tools you use to keep your holiday spending in check?

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addiction. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 13th, 2014
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