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Can you be addicted to wealth?

The one percent are under attack.

In San Francisco, Google and Twitter are facing protests from locals angered at dotcom millionaires hiking rents and property prices. In London, the opposition Labour Party have said they will raise the highest tax rate from 45 percent to 50 percent if it is returned to power in 2015.

Commenting on the protests and antipathy, the U.S. venture capitalist Thomas Perkins wrote on January 24 that the "rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent" was akin to the persecution of the Jews during Nazi Germany. Perkins has since apologized, but some experts and other members of the one percent have said was that the rich are being attacked for something they can't control.

The one percent are addicts. Wealth addicts.

In a New York Times op-ed on January 18, Sam Polk, a former hedge-fund trader, wrote: "In my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million — and I was angry because it wasn't big enough... I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted."

John Lund | Getty Images

The initial reaction may be one of scorn: surely this is just greed and not addiction? The latest depiction of big money, Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf Of Wall Street", shows stockbrokers as more drug than wealth addicts, hardly struggling with something they can't control.

Wealth addiction a clever cover-up?

As Polk pointed out in his article, the sociologist Philip Slater penned a book called "Wealth Addiction" in 1980 in which he said that the problem came from "our attitude toward money."

"An addiction is a need that is not only (1) intense and (2) chronic, but also (3) feels as if it were essential to our sense of wholeness," Slater wrote. "Addictions have to do with our feelings about ourselves: if you think you would feel incomplete, less of a person, or unable to function well without something."

(Read more: 'Wolf of Wall Street': Who's afraid?)

Polk described in his op-ed how his Wall Street job made him feel important: "The satisfaction wasn't just about the money. It was about the power. Because of how smart and successful I was, it was someone else's job to make me happy."

The study of addiction is not clear cut. It used to be understood that addictive behavior could only apply to an activity where something - most likely a drug - was ingested. Since the 1980s a number of different behaviors became to be seen as addictive: gambling, sex, exercise, video game playing.

Robert West, the Editor-in-Chief oft the science journal, Addiction, and Professor of Health Psychology at University College London (UCL), said his definition of addiction was:

"A propensity to experience strong repeated motivation to engage in a type of behaviour or failure to exert control over it, acquired through engaging in it, resulting in significant actual or potential unintended harm."

But does wealth addiction cause harm in the same way that, say, a heroin addiction might?

"The question I always get asked by the media is what is the difference between a healthy excessive enthusiasm and an addiction," said Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies at Nottingham Trent University. "Basically, healthy excessive enthusiasms add to life; addictions take away from it."

(Read more: Strippers, dwarfs & coke: The real Wall Street)

West gave an example that was very close to home: his brother was a CEO of an investment bank in New York and he was "miserable as hell."

"No amount of Ferraris and houses in Miami helped," he said. "He saw the people he worked with as miserable too because no matter how much wealth they had, it wasn't enough. Now that he has left the banking world he is much happier."



Steven Rhodes | Flickr Vision | Getty Images

A society hooked on money

West touched on a much wider issue with regards to wealth addiction and its consequences – its impact on the broader society.

He argued that wealth addiction leads to a disproportionate amount of human and material resources being devoted to meeting the desires of wealth addicts, like luxury goods and services.

(Read more: Americans say rich don't work harder)

"The 'value' associated with a luxury car for one person is so much less than if the same resources went into the general economy," he said.

So what can we do to help out those addicted to wealth and all its trappings? Polk argues that wealth addicts need therapy akin to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. On the other hand, Slater said a transformation of society's values was required. This was not an attack on the one percent, but everyone who desires to accumulate wealth and not share it, what Slater called "Closet Addicts."

"My goal is to persuade Americans to repudiate that dream" of accumulating vast, private wealth, Slater wrote.

Stanton Peele, a psychotherapist who recently published a book about curing addiction with Ilse Thompson called "Recover!", said via email that, "As a social commentary, wealth addiction describes a society where all meaning and social status are derived from the accumulation of wealth. "

"Witness the story of Mike Tyson, who spent many millions ondrugs, true, but really most of his wealth was squandered on jewellery, cars,houses," Peele said.

"The easiest description for both individuals like Tyson, and for a society where people like him reign, is an emptiness and absence of sustaining values, community, and life meaning for which wealth, money, and possessions are sought as glittering, attractive, addictive substitutes."

—By CNBC's Kiran Moodley. Follow him on Twitter @kirancmoodley

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