In a recent (and rather popular) op-ed for the NY Times, a prior hedge fund trader describes how he replaced his drug and alcohol addiction with an addiction to money. “I was a giant fireball of greed,” Sam Polk writes. He chronicles his journey from degenerate Columbia student to highly compensated hedge-fund trader to his present position as the head of a nonprofit organization. When Polk was working on Wall Street, he became a self-proclaimed “wealth addict,” though he ultimately recognized he had a problem and quit. However, he debates that finance is still full of money junkies just like him.
Polk describes his addiction to alcohol, cocaine, Ritalin, ecstasy and pot during his college days and his choice to get sober with the help of a therapist during the time of an internship at Credit Suisse. He was working in hopes of getting rich someday and upon graduation he received a full time job as a trader at the Bank of America, where he quickly grew eager by how much money was obtainable. During his rise through positions at the Bank of America, his yearning for wealth and power that came with it increased. Finally, Polk moved on to a hedge fund, where he found himself dissatisfied when he earned “‘only’ $1.5 million” in his second year there.
When Polk speaks with his therapist, he is told that he might be using money the same way he used drugs; to make himself feel powerful (and fix that spiritual malady) and that it would be in his best interest to stop concentrating on money and focus on healing his inner wounds. He brushed off her suggestions until a meeting where one of his extremely wealthy bosses voiced a dislike to increased hedge-fund guidelines. After that, he began to see Wall Street differently. He writes “These traders despised anything or anyone that threatened their bonuses. Ever see what a drug addict is like when he’s used up his junk? He’ll do anything — walk 20 miles in the snow, rob a grandma — to get a fix. Wall Street was like that. In the months before bonuses were handed out, the trading floor started to feel like a neighborhood in “The Wire” when the heroin runs out.”
Despite knowing that he had an issue with wealth addiction, it took him awhile to get clean. He finally left the hedge fund in 2010 following his boss declining his request to raise his bonus from $3.6 million to $8 million. After spending a year going through withdrawal and waking up in the middle of the night panicking about money, he had enough and went on to start a charity that aids poor families. Polk closes with the optimism that “we all confront our part in enabling wealth addicts to exert so much influence over our country,” the culture of which presently “supports and even lauds the addiction.”
In my opinion, wealth addiction can be just as dangerous as any other addiction. I see a lot of people get some recovery under their belt and then become obsessed with making money and becoming rich. I didn’t get sober to be that type of person and am glad I’m not. Money isn’t what is going to keep me happy today; I have an inner-peace that no amount of money can buy. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll free 1-800-951-6135.