Debtors Anonymous (DA) is a peer support program and organization for recovery from problematic spending that leads to serious debt.1 DA uses the 12-step system that was originally pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous during the 1930s. And, like all traditional 12-step programs, participation is free of charge and everything shared remains confidential.1
What Is Debt Addiction?
Addiction to debt is considered a behavioral addiction, and peer support groups have shown promise as part of an effective therapeutic approach to these types of addictions. Debtors Anonymous suggests that participants stop incurring any new debt even before they find a DA meeting in their area. Then the program advises new participants to attend at least 6 meetings to decide whether the DA approach is helpful to them.
If you think you might have a debt addiction, read the following signs that indicate a dysfunctional relationship with money and debt:2
- Debt makes your home life unhappy
- The pressure of debt distracts you from work
- Your debt has affected your reputation
- Your debt makes you think less of yourself
- You have given false information to obtain credit
- You have made unrealistic promises to your creditors
- The pressure of your debt makes you careless about the welfare of your family
- You fear that your employer, family, or friends will learn the extent of your debt
- The idea of borrowing, when faced with a difficult financial situation, gives you a feeling of overwhelming relief
- The pressure of your debt creates sleep disturbances
- The pressure of your debt has made you consider getting drunk or had led you to get drunk
- You have borrowed money without giving appropriate consideration to the interest rate you will be required to pay
- You typically expect a negative response when you are subject to a credit inquiry
- After developing a strict regimen for paying off your debt, you break it while under pressure
- You justify your debt by telling yourself that you are different from others and that when you get your “break”, you will get out of debt
Another telling sign of an addiction is continuing to engage in the addictive behaviors despite negative consequences, such as always feeling guilty, poor school or work performance, job loss, strain in important relationships, significant financial problems, or legal issues.3
However, while all of these signs of an addiction are concerning, it is important to remember that not all overuse of credit cards is considered compulsive or qualifies as an addiction. In tough financial times, some people are left with no other way to pay for daily expenses besides using their credit cards.
Also, Debtors Anonymous does not help people who use debt for usual, planned, or emergency expenses. The purpose of the group is to help those who incur debt by compulsively buying items they do not need or who live above their means by paying for meals, vacations, and other luxuries with unsecured credit that they are not able to pay off.1 Individuals or families who have incurred debt but are not compulsive debtors are best served by finding credit counseling services to restore their financial health.
How It Affects Your Mental Health
One significant consequence of debt addiction is the potential for worsening mental health issues.4 Research has found that adults who are in debt are 3 times more likely than those not in debt to have a mental health disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, or a combination of these.4 Those who have other addictive behaviors in addition to a debt addiction (such as alcohol or drug dependence or problematic gambling) tend to have even more significant mental health problems.4 Studies also discovered that issues occur at even higher rates in those who have multiple sources of debt and who need to get loans because of this: among this population, approximately 50% struggle with a mental health disorder.4
What to Expect at a Meeting
Participants in DA meetings can expect to meet other people in their area who are also experiencing financial, social, and personal difficulties due to overuse of unsecured debt. Some of the participants in these meetings may have experienced the loss of a job, a business, relationships, their health, or even contemplated or attempted suicide due to the aftermath of constant compulsive borrowing.
Support groups such as DA provide a safe space for anyone struggling with addiction to share these problems and to discuss any painful memories associated with their addiction. Group members may also enlighten the group with the things they learned “the hard way” due to their addiction. However, members of support groups, such as DA, also share and discuss their successes. This provides hope, encouragement, and a positive outlook regarding recovery.
They might share tips about how they got out of debt and how to avoid triggers that led them to compulsive borrowing in the first place. The atmosphere in these support groups is usually one of mutual encouragement. Using the 12 steps of Debtors Anonymous as a guide, participants in DA meetings discuss how to make amends to those whom they have hurt through their unhealthy financial patterns and habits, as well as how to strengthen their resolve to maintain a debt-free lifestyle.
If you are interested in attending a DA meeting, visit its website to find one near you. There’s no need to struggle with compulsive spending and crushing debt alone.
- Debtors Anonymous. (2018). History of Debtors Anonymous.
- Debtors Anonymous. (2018). Is D.A. For You?
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association Publishing.
- Meltzer, H., Bebbington, P., Brugha, T., Farrell, M., & Jenkins, R. (2013). The relationship between personal debt and specific common mental disorders. European Journal of Public Health, 23(1), 108–113.