Shopping Addiction

The competition for your money is fierce, as retail stores and online tech giants are finding innovative ways to make it easier for you to use credit cards and find the best discount deals online. You probably shop online during your commute to work in the morning, when you have a light workload, during your lunch hour and, sometimes, for a spur of the moment purchase. It’s easier to fall prey to spending during discount seasons such as Mother’s Day, spring break sales, summer sales, and Black Friday Sales.

Shopping can be a compulsive action you can’t control. You hear about a good deal and you absolutely have to buy what is advertised, even with mounting credit card bills and the rent to pay. As a compulsive shopper, there’s a euphoria you feel when you shop, similar to the “high” alcoholics and substance users crave when they abuse substances.

According to a 2006 Stanford University study, 5.5% of shopaholics are men and 6% are women. A 2017 survey by eWAY, an online payment platform, found that the highest sales volume occurs during business hours. but early-morning shopping while workers commute to work is also strong. Scientists and addiction experts suggest that it’s an impulse control disorder that can be treated using the same methods administered for treating alcohol use disorder and other forms of substance abuse.

What is Shopping Addiction/Compulsive Shopping?

Compulsive shopping shares some characteristics with other forms of addictive behaviour such as gambling, alcoholism, and overeating. You’re an addict when you’re dependent on a habit in a way that causes serious physical and psychological problems in your life. Addiction is often a symptom of unresolved issues such as loneliness, depression, body image issues, anxiety, and many more. Shopping addiction is characterised by a pattern of repetitive and compulsive buying behaviour.

While shopping addiction is not currently recognised as a medical or mental health condition, addiction experts believe it should be treated like any other addiction. According to a professor of applied health science, Ruth Engs, shopaholics believe that shopping makes them feel better but, in reality, it makes them feel worse.  You buy to relieve symptoms of mental health issues and, after a while, you use shopping to cover up deeply-rooted mental health issues.

Compulsive Shopping Causes

Childhood Issues

According to a CNN editorial article, parents who gave their children too many presents while they were growing groomed them into desiring material possessions. Some parents make up for their absence in their children’s life, or poor parenting skills, with presents and gifts. When the children grow up, they shop to fill a void.

Children who grew up poor might overshop when they are financially stable as a way of making up for all the things they didn’t have or enjoy when they were younger, such as designer clothing, tech gadgets, and expensive pieces of jewellery.

Cover up for Mental Health Issues

Compulsive shopping might be your personal remedy for loneliness, depression, and anxiety. If you experience any of these symptoms during the holidays you might shop to feel confident, loved, and relieve the stress in your everyday life. When you’re addicted to shopping, your brain releases dopamine and endorphins. These are feel-good neurochemicals that reinforce repeat behaviour and lead to addiction.

Relationship Problems

If you’re in a relationship, shopping might be your way of dealing with strain in your relationship.

Most of the problems associated with shopping addiction are psychological. A spending addiction is a warning sign that there are deep-rooted issues you need to address before you can overcome your shopping addiction. Other causes of shopping addiction include:

  • The need for control
  • Perfectionism
  • Seeking excitement
  • The need to fill the void of longing and emptiness
  • Feelings anxiousness

Biggest Signs You are Addicted to Shopping

It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between a shopping spree and a shopping addiction. Some of the biggest signs to look out for include:

  • Having many items in your closet or wardrobe you’ve never used, some of which still have their tags on them or are unopened
  • Being an impulse buyer who buys items regardless of need
  • Shopping to deal with arguments or feelings of frustrated
  • Experiencing a rush of excitement and pleasure, just like an adrenaline rush, like an alcoholic would
  • When not shopping, spending every moment thinking about shopping
  • Feeling guilt and shame during or after shopping
  • Losing control of shopping behaviour

Who is at Risk for Shopping Addiction?

There are several risk factors that influence the development of a shopping addiction. Risk factors include gender and age, with young women being most at risk to develop the addiction. According to Kent Monroe, a marketing professor and researcher at the University of Illinois, compulsive buying affects people across all economic classes.

Studies show that shopping addiction mostly develops in families with a high rate of substance use disorder and mental health disorders. If you have an immediate family member suffering from depression, you’re also at risk for shopping addiction.

Most shopaholics are young females who didn’t complete college. You’re also more likely to develop alcohol use disorder and abuse illicit substances as a shopping addict. Self-conscious individuals who suffer from anxiety use shopping sprees to cope with negative emotions. Extroverts seeking to maintain their attractiveness and relevance shop to show off their affluent lifestyle.

Emotional Symptoms of a Shopping Addiction

Similar to individuals with substance use disorder, you will try to hide your shopping addiction. If you hide credit card bills, shopping bags, and receipts, you might have a shopping addiction. Lying is also a symptom of a shopping addiction. To maintain your addiction, you lie about the amount you spend. Other signs include:

  • Shopping as a temporary solution to depression
  • Feeling guilty when you shop and spending more money to override the guilt
  • Spending above your income
  • Your shopping habits alienate and destroy your relationships with loved ones

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of a Shopping Addiction

The immediate feeling associated with a shopping spree is excitement and euphoria. When you order an item, you feel happy, but, soon, guilt and anxiety creep in, which drive you back to the store.

Long-term effects are psychological and could be disastrous if you don’t receive addiction treatment on time. You will face financial ruin as the pile of debt rises. You may be unable to make mortgage payments, pay utility bills, or put food on the table for your family. This affects your relationship with your family (especially if you’re the breadwinner). Some addicts take out a second mortgage or max out their credit cards. Over time, you might end up divorced, estranged from loved ones, and lose your home.

The Dangers of Shopping Addiction

Growing up in a home where your parents were always in debt affects the children in the home. They witness arguments and feuds originating from the spending habit of one of their guardians. Most compulsive addicts live an expensive lifestyle, regardless of whether they can afford it or not. They have an eye for taste and are always decked out in designer labels.

One of the dangers of a shopping addiction is that you lose life skills that would serve you well, especially the art of delayed gratification, which is an incredibly valuable skill. You’re also unable to function properly in society due to your spending habits. Poor money management leads to the destruction of marriage, loss of the family home, and loss of finance.

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Why Shopping Addiction can Cost you More than Money

According to Dr Cecilie Andreassen, a major indicator of shopping addiction is shopping to change one’s mood. When you use shopping to escape from negative emotions or unpleasant feelings, you’re probably addicted to shopping. The Consumer Credit Counselling Service estimates that 50,000 people get into financial trouble due to their shopping habits and 20% of women are shopaholics.

The swipe of a credit card makes you feel empowered but, after a few days, anxiety returns and you’re back at the store. The ease of getting a credit card means that you’re moving to the next card as soon as you max out your current card. This is a habit that most people don’t seek help for until they reach rock bottom.

Do I need Shopping Addiction Treatment?

The fact that you have no control, or feel the compulsive need to shop for items when it affects your physical and mental well being is a sign of addiction. You need shopping addiction treatment when the habit is out of control. Professional therapy helps you overcome the habit by exploring all feelings and triggers that first led to your shopping addiction and using research-backed therapy approaches to treat psychological symptoms.

Difference Between a Shopping Spree & Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction is a routine action that takes place at any time. On the other hand, a shopping spree occurs around a special occasion or holiday event. A shopping spree is more controlled and backed by the means to pay for purchases. You have no control over shopping addiction and spend even when you can’t afford the items.

How Shopping Addiction can Interact with other Disorders

The relationship between mental health disorders and shopping addiction has been explored in anxiety and depression. These disorders are related to impulsivity, low-self-esteem, hedonism, and materialism. Depression is the most common disorder as consumers cope with depressive moods by shopping. According to research, it is the major trigger for shopping addiction and should be addressed in treatment.

Treatment for Shopping Addiction

Most people who are addicted to shopping admit they have a problem but don’t know how to get help. A few treatment options include:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): This therapeutic option helps you identify the thought processes and behaviour patterns that make you want to shop. You’ll learn to change your thought process behaviour through this form of therapy.

Medication: If your shopping addiction is driven by mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, your therapist might prescribe anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications to treat these underlying symptoms.

Support Groups: There are several support group meetings for individuals who have a shopping addiction. They include Shopaholics Anonymous, online support, Spenders Anonymous and Debtors Anonymous.

How you Can Help a Family Member Who is a Shopaholic

Your loved one who is struggling with a shopping addiction needs your love and support. Shopping addiction is linked to an obsessive-compulsive disorder in which a shopaholic needs to keep everything they purchase, even items they don’t need. A few tips include:

  • Don’t pay bills for a shopping addict because that only encourages them.
  • Try to help them find new activities they can engage in to take their mind off shopping.
  • Encourage them to seek counselling support from a professional addiction therapist.

Tips for Avoiding a Shopping Binge

Identify triggers that send you on a shopping spree. Knowing your triggers makes it easier to work towards treatment.

Limit your shopping to items that you need, not want. You can block the websites of your favourite stores and ask a confidant to set the password. Learn to spend less time online.

Stop hanging out with friends who encourage you to shop needlessly. You can make new friends who have similar goals at support group meetings.

Exercise: When you feel depressed or the urge to shop is irresistible, head over to the gym and sweat it out. A social environment where you’re surrounded by people will make you feel better.


Does Insurance Help Cover the Costs?

Most insurance companies do not recognise shopping addiction as a diagnosis so it will be difficult to get your insurance company to cover the partial or full cost of rehab treatment.

Are There Different Types of Shopping or Spending Addictions?

Types of shopaholics include:

  • Trophy shopaholics looking for the perfect product
  • ‘Bulimic’ shoppers who buy and return
  • Shopping addicts who shop when they’re stressed
  • Collectors who only feel complete when they have every piece from a collection in their possession.

Is There a Test or Self-Assessment I Can Do?

There a few questions you can ask yourself. Suggested questions from Shopaholics Anonymous include:

  • Do you experience problems in your life because of overspending?
  • Do you shop when you’re disappointed or angry?
  • Do you feel like you’re doing something dangerous and wild when you shop?

Are There Shopping Addiction Drug Options?

There are no medications that treat shopping addiction but some former addicts state that antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications help to treat the underlying reasons why people become shopaholics.

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