Wednesday, October 26, 2016

MLM and Addiction

Addiction is a very interesting topic, because it is easily identifiable, it is treatable, and yet is one of the hardest concepts to completely understand. Addiction comes in many different forms and there is potential to be addicted to almost everything. This is why many drug companies try to suggest their drugs don't have any addictive properties, even though addictive properties do not completely stop someone from becoming an addict.

Addiction: Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocainenicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, relationships, or health. Users may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others. (

In layman's terms, addiction can be any substance or activity that makes your life go from an original point to a lesser point. This makes addiction very scary, because the reasons for becoming addicted are not readily definable. There is no research that suggests only when people do a certain action, will they then become addicted. Addiction can come from joy, stress, depression, anxiety, or from nothing and be completely random.

When I was learning about the brain and addiction, we went through the example of how cocaine affects the brain. The following is a condensed version of how it works. Cocaine affects the limbic system (our reward system), and the limbic system is in control of releasing dopamine (our neurotransmitter that makes us happy). The limbic system releases a certain amount of dopamine depending on how pleasurable something is, and it has a certain balance to ensure we don't get overly happy or overly sad. However, cocaine makes the limbic system go crazy and then it releases an extremely large amount of dopamine the first few times. This is why people become addicted, because their brain feels REALLY good, but cocaine also damages the transmitters which help to create dopamine. This is where we get the phrase, chasing the high, because the deterioration of the transmitters happens quickly, and the limbic system doesn't naturally release this larger amount of dopamine, therefore people run into a double problem. They can't continue to feel as good as they originally did when they took cocaine, and they feel extremely bad when they aren't on cocaine forcing them to up the dosage and continue to try to get to the original high, which eventually becomes impossible. Not only does this cycle tear apart their day-to-day lives, but it destroys their brain chemistry as well.

Are MLMers similar to cocaine addicts? Undeniably, and here are some of the parallels between the two addictions.

1. The first time you get love bombed at an MLM meeting is very similar to the first time a person uses cocaine. The high from being involved in a group of people that care about you, listen to you, and embrace you is extremely addictive, and MLMers know that. They want you to feel as good as possible, and they want you to keep coming back to try and get more of that love and support.

2. MLMers will begin to chase the high after they are struggling without the group. They may be failing to find recruits, failing to sell products, or failing to get family and friends support. This helps to make sure MLMers keep coming to meetings, and keep trying to get the love and attention they had originally gotten.

3. MLMers will slowly become dependent on their team, and their life will become more and more absorbed by all things involving the business. You will see the MLMer's personality change as they become more involved with the group, and their day-to-day responsibilities will start to go unattended.

4. MLMers will start to get less and less positives out of the experience, because uplines will not continue to love bomb unconditionally without results. Upline may ridicule the downline, and the pleasure of the love bombing will fade as the downline continues to struggle.

I have heard of MLMers pursuing the dream to the point of foreclosure on their homes, job loss, and divorce. MLMs have been responsible for taking away retirements, and have made people lose friends and family. MLMs have the exact same downsides as any drug (legal or illegal), but MLMs may be worse because people can be harder to escape.

If you have a story involving abuses from your upline and would like me to share it on this blog as a guest post, then please e-mail me and I will be more than happy to post it! Your stories are not as unique as you may think, and your stories are some of the most impactful resources we have to fight MLMs. I will keep your anonymity upon request.


  1. Interesting, but there's one flaw in your analysis. If the MLM addict is desperate for love-bombing, why doesn't his up-line just keep on giving it, unconditionally? After all, love-bombing is cheap, and doesn't cost anyone a thing.

    It's much different with a drug dealer, who will give a few free fixes to a beginning addict to get him hooked on the drug. But since hard drugs cost money, the drug dealer won't do this forever. He'll insist that the addict start paying the full cost of the drugs he receives.

    But if love-bombing keeps an MLM addict in the system, why would his up-line all of a sudden stop giving it? This, in my view, would merely cause the MLM addict to quit. And that's certainly not what his up-line wants.

    1. The love bombing gets a person hooked. Hopefully to the point of isolation from most other important people in that person's life, or to the point of being the most important thing in the person's life. This allows control and power. Threaten to remove the approval and love and the person will work harder, be more compliant. Intermittent reward is very potent. The love bombing never totally stops it just gets interspersed with assertions of power and control.

    2. Hey Anonymous,

      The reason they stop getting love bombing for no reason is the need for results. They will go from a classical conditioning with the love bombing which means every time the MLMer initially thinks of MLM they will think happy and joyous because of the love bombing. Then that will turn into operant conditioning which means love bombing when the MLMer does well and ridicule when they do not.

      In psychology, Freud came up with the id, ego, and superego. The id is our most basic needs and desires. Also referred to as the stomach, these are our primal instincts. An example would be stealing someone's candy bar, because you also want it. The ego is the brain, and this tells us to calculate decisions ahead because there are consequences. The ego will tell us, it isn't worth stealing the candy bar, because we could go to jail or pay a fine and that would be much more painful than the pleasure of eating the candy. The superego is the soul which controls the brain. The superego and the ego can come to the same conclusion, but it will be for different reasons. The superego will tell you not to steal the candy bar, because it isn't morally right and you wouldn't want that to happen to you.

      Love bombing triggers the strongest desires for happiness in the id, but that isn't going to keep people as hooked as they would if you activate the ego and superego as well. They take it a step further by not always giving the love bombing which activates the ego. An MLMer will make certain decisions to get more love bombing based on the fact they don't want to get ridiculed. This may include missing a family event, a birthday, or a friendly get together. Finally, they institute religion to play to the person's superego. They have now given the MLMer a sense of moral direction, and have instituted wholesome values. Now, an MLMer may not need love bombing anymore, because they will feel the MLM is always the best choice (much like helping a friend in need).

    3. Dear Lorikeets and John Doe --

      Yes, I see your points. Intermittent reward can be very compelling, and the id-ego-superego theory does seem to account for the behavior of MLM freaks.

      But I would also add that the comparison of MLM enthusiasm to drug addiction should be taken only as an analogy, and not as a perfectly parallel example. In actual drug addiction to heroin, cocaine, or some other substance, there are concrete chemical and material changes in the body that make the addiction less psychological than physical. Such physical changes don't happen when you are hooked by Amway.

      Fixation on Amway remains a mind-and-soul problem, not a body problem.

    4. Anonymous,

      I absolutely agree, and it was definitely only meant to be an analogy. I'm not sure if there was anything in the article to suggest cocaine and MLM were a perfect parallel, or a physical change when being in MLM, but I am also somewhat blind to my own writing and can always use a 3rd party to help me fix errors. If you can quote a confusing passage, then I will definitely fix it to avoid any further issues.

    5. No, I don't think there was any error in what you wrote. I was just offering a clarification.

  2. Hi, nice article. My father is doing MLM since more than 20 years. He doesn't have any addiction other than MLM but this only thing ruining our lives. He borrows money from relatives & friends for doing MLM & to return borrowed money, he takes hand loans with high interest rates. He fell in to this vicious cycle. Left nothing to us but threatens us to pay loans. I am facing lot of stress because of him. From your article, I can guess his actual problem. But you have not given any solution to it. Kindly provide solution if you have.

    1. Unknown,

      I'm very sorry to hear your father has been involved with this "industry" for 20 years. That must be extremely difficult. Unfortunately, I don't have any answers to this problem, and my best advice is to do what you can to protect yourself. Don't lend him money, don't fall prey to his threats, and don't feel you are responsible for his choices. He is a grown man, and he must learn, on his own, that this is not a real business. Rewarding him with loans, support, or any other kind of encouragement, will not help to get him out of MLM. Only when he is ready to leave, or has run out of money, can he begin to recover and find a new path.

  3. Thanks for finally writing about >"MLM and Addiction" <Liked it!

  4. I’m in this situation. My husband is in Primerica for now 16 years. It has destroyed his life gripped his heart and im on the verge of ending our marriage. in the past 15 years he has lost his first wife and children, stolen over a 150k from the equity in his elderly parents home, been homeless and gotten robbed at gunpoint, he’s now in debt to the child support office for 50k and been threatened with jail time,
    He has never had a decent job since I met him 9 years ago and most of the time never had a job, his children want nothing to do with him and I kicked him out a year and a half ago for getting his car repoed again and living off me with my little girl. He has no car now and is riding around in a bike lives with his mother and still showed up to that Primerica office faithfully talking about when he is going to be rich someday It’s insanity! Absolutely and utterly insane and he’s the only one who can’t see it.

    1. Allison,

      Sorry to hear about this struggle with your husband. It sounds like he can't be helped. Wish you all the best with this, and hopefully you and your family will come out okay.

    2. Allison's story is as frightening as the kind of nightmare narratives you get from the families of drug addicts and hopeless alcoholics.

      It is an absolute necessity that we recognize the addictive and self-destructive nature of all MLMs, and that legal steps be taken to control them, or better yet, to put them totally out of business.

  5. There is something about these MLMs that is positively diabolical. Twenty years in an obvious fraud like Primerica! Not making a dime of profit but still believing passionately in it!

    There is one thing you have to give the MLM operators credit for: they understand something about the human psyche that the rest of us have either overlooked or misperceived. There is no other way to explain this kind of abject self-abasement before a patent absurdity.

    1. Anonymous --

      I'd be more inclined to give them credit for taking well-established psychological techniques and using them for self-gain, rather than actually suggest they came up with something novel. With that being said, their biggest accomplishment is having no moral compass and a fundamental lack of compassion for fellow human beings in the pursuit of self-enrichment.