Beat Your Shopping Addiction

Overcome your denial and confront your compulsive shopping.

When It’s Time to Seek Help for a Shopping Addiction

Though it is one of the most socially acceptable addictions, those who are addicted to shopping can be just as likely to cause harm to themselves and their loved ones. The danger may not be physical, but the emotional and financial strain caused by uncontrollable excessive spending can splinter relationships and cause irreparable damage to the shopaholic’s financial future.

With the vast amount of marketing and advertising surrounding us daily – in print, on TV and radio, and online – it’s difficult to refrain from shopping; however, most of us can control our spending urges and buy only what is necessary and within our budget – with occasional sprees or impulse purchases. For a shopaholic, the compulsion to spend is only exacerbated by the multitude of marketing messages that bombard them daily. They are unable to curb their desire to spend ever-increasing sums on items they don’t need, and willingly incur credit card debts that they may never be able to repay without first seeking treatment and recovering from their addiction.

When should you seek help for shopping addictions? If you think that you, or a loved one might suffer from a shopping addiction, it’s important that you speak to your doctor, or seek help from another source, such as a financial planner, debt counsellor, or even a therapists or addiction specialist. Some options are even available online, such as American Addiction Centers.

If you’re not ready to reach out to someone who will help you on your journey to recovery, it’s very possible to take the first steps on your own. There are several ways you might begin to take control of your spending: you can remove your credit card information from your favourite online shops or even entirely block online shopping sites; you could destroy your credit cards, or render them temporarily inaccessible – a former co-worker froze her credit cards within a block of ice as a means to curb her impulsive spending as, by the time they’d defrosted enough to use, she had time to rethink her purchase. Winnie Sun, of Sun Group Wealth Partners, suggests leaving purchases in a corner of the room for a whole week and says “If you don’t touch it for a week, that means you can live without it.” As returning the items is time-consuming, frustrating and embarrassing, her clients eventually get to a point where they limit their purchases.

If you feel that your spending is out of control, and is putting your financial welfare, or relationships at risk, please seek help for your shopping addiction.

How Much is Too Much Shopping?

Bargains are everywhere: whether at brick-and-mortar stores or online, at clearance sales, discount outlets, on Black Friday or Cyber Monday – there are no shortage of opportunities to shop. With the Holiday season approaching, stores will see their highest revenues of the year over the next two months as consumers vie for the best deals and biggest savings on the perfect gifts for themselves and their loved ones.

But how much shopping is too much? Where should a shopper draw the line? When is it time to step away from shopping? For many, the compulsion to shop is a true addiction – one that, now more than ever, is far too easy to satisfy. Online retailers offer irresistible draw to shopaholics: in an age when a limitless array of products are available, shopping can be as simple as the click of a mouse, and purchases are conveniently delivered to the doors, shopaholics need not face the censure of society for their actions.

Many shopaholics spend beyond their means, and overdraw from savings and credit cards to fund their habit. They may even hide their purchases – and their overwhelming debt load – from their loved ones. They are unable to resist the lure of spending money in an ever-increasing search for pleasure and the dopamine rush provided by the best bargains. When people become too addicted to the chemical rewards shopping delivers, and shopping becomes a compulsion rather than merely a pleasurable pastime, then they’ve likely developed compulsive buying disorder (also known as oniomania).

If you’re addicted to the thrill of the hunt, feel compelled to buy, and you’re spending far more time and money shopping than you can afford while hiding the extent of your debts, it’s time to draw that line and seriously consider your spending habits. Several online resources and tools are available to help those addicted to shopping – the Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale rates the participant’s responses to a series of questions addressing spending. Many online support groups or therapy solutions can help the shopaholic get their spending under control; helplines such as the one offered by American Addiction Centers can help you discuss a possible addiction to shopping and some possibilities for treatment and recovery.

A first step toward controlling your compulsions may be to limit shopping excursions as much as possible – blocking shopping websites at work or home, and only entering a store with a shopping list in hand. Channel your feelings into a more productive pastime: organized sports or exercise, listening to music, reading, or developing a new hobby may leave little time for shopping in your life.

Can Shopping Become a Legitimate Addiction?

There’s nothing like an exciting spending spree to raise your spirits when you’re feeling down. What could be more fun than hitting the mall with friends and hunting for the perfect item or the best bargains? Most people can stop at the occasional outing – but for some, the temptation to shop is irresistible. And shopping, like many other pleasurable activities, can become destructive when taken too far.

Though shopping addiction is not a new condition, being recognized nearly two hundred years ago, and first cited as a psychiatric disorder in the early twentieth century, experts are undecided as to whether many so-called shopaholics suffer from true addiction disorders; the term is, in fact, often used flippantly to refer to anyone who loves to shop. But there’s a vast difference between the recreational shopper and the true addict. Shopping can be legitimately considered an addiction when it has the same effects on the addict as any other substance abuse: if the behaviour is destructive to that person or their loved ones, is causing irreparable harm, or leads to immoral or illegal conduct.

Some shopaholics spend far more time and money than is affordable on their habit. They neglect other responsibilities, and even use shopping as a way to escape feelings of anxiety, depression or anger. They are addicted to the rush of endorphins and dopamine produced by spending money; they, anticipate, plan out and crave the act of shopping in same way a substance abuser anticipates their next hit. Predictably, after the ecstasy comes the emptiness; the shopper crashes, and may feel disappointed in themselves, and guilty for their actions.

Far too often, the purchases go unused, hoarded away, sometimes returned to the store, sometimes hidden away as shameful reminder of their surrender to temptation. The shopper falls further and further into debt, and usually hides this by applying for more credit with the intention of paying off what they owe; inevitably, the new credit is used for more purchases, as the shopper tries to escape their negative feelings and self-critical thoughts.

The true shopaholic feels a compulsion to buy – even when they’ve already spent far more money than is wise. The advertising and marketing that surrounds us all on a daily basis is a minefield for the compulsive shopper, reminding them at every turn that their chosen high is just a quick transaction away. The addict is unable to resist their impulse to spend money, though they may be risking their financial future and their relationships with their loved ones. As such, though there is no physical harm done, the compulsion is comparable to any other true addiction and may require treatment to overcome.

The Shopping Addict in Your Life

We all have a favourite activity to share with our loved ones; for some, it’s shopping. Spending an afternoon at the mall with friends or family can be a lovely outing. But what to do when we fear that those we care for might be addicted to shopping?

While giving in to impulse occasionally is perfectly normal, the compulsion to shop – oniomania – which has negative effects on a person’s life could be a sign that they’ve developed an addiction. While we lead very consumeristic lifestyles, especially in the Holiday season, someone who consistently spends more than they can afford to buy items that they usually don’t need – especially if they’re attempting to hide their excessive purchasing – might have an addiction to shopping.

A shopaholic may be trying to eliminate negative feelings such as anger, depression, or loneliness; they may even be caught in a cycle of spending – addicted to the high induced by the rush of endorphins caused by shopping, then suffering from guilt and shame after a spree, which brings on anxiety and depression, leading to more shopping. A shopaholic usually spends more money than they can afford, preferring credit cards to cash and sometimes delaying bill payments while opening new credit accounts to facilitate more shopping. All of these behaviours can be destructive – but there are ways to help the shopping addicts in our lives.

Like with any addiction, the road to recovery may be a long and difficult one, but your presence – and your patience – are very important to your loved one as they navigate their addiction. The most essential step for curbing compulsive shopping is to avoid the potential for a binge: try convincing the shopaholic to pay off, cancel, and then destroy all but one credit card (which must be used only for emergencies) – a former friend once froze their credit card in a block of ice to prevent impulse buying. Insist that they shop only when absolutely necessary, and then to stick to a list of required items. Try to engage a shopaholic in other, more constructive activities such as exercise, reading, or music.

A shopping addict may frequently suffer from emotional problems, have low self-esteem, or trouble controlling impulsive behaviours. Often, dealing with the underlying issues can help the addict to recover. With time and effort, it’s entirely possible to overcome a shopping addiction – and the positive encouragement of a loved one can go a long way to help a shopaholic.

Am I a Shopaholic?

We live in a consumer-based society. The days of bartering are long past, and we now almost exclusively buy the things we need; most of us also occasionally buy things that we don’t need. And we’re surrounded by advertising that encourages spending – told that buying the latest and greatest will make us happy. But what about people who spend far more than is wise on thing they will likely never use? Though it is definitely one of the most socially acceptable, an addiction to shopping can be as devastating as any other.

How do you know when you’ve crossed the line between buying necessities, having the occasional “retail therapy” outing, and being a shopaholic? Generally, people who are truly addicted to shopping will spend more money than they can afford, and shop when their time would be better spent elsewhere – such as at work, or with friends and family. A shopaholic needs the temporary high brought about by compulsive or impulsive spending, though they’re often unsatisfied with their purchases when they arrive home. They seek to fill a void, or escape emotional difficulties by shopping; though when the temporary high recedes they, like any other addict, are left feeling empty and craving another “hit”.

There are several types of shopaholic, and you may have a shopping addiction if you identify strongly with any of the following descriptions. Compulsive shoppers feel the need to buy when they feel distressed, while trophy shoppers seek the “perfect” item. Bargain seekers will buy items they don’t need if the deal is attractive enough; bulimic shoppers cycle through purchasing and returning items. Collectors need multiple items (all pieces of a set, or an item in every available colour) to fill complete. Some shopaholics love flashy items and want to appear to be a big spender.

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if you are, or if a loved one is a shopaholic; an addict relies on the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain caused by indulging in their addiction. Shopaholics Anonymous suggest asking yourself if overspending has created problems in your life; do you feel rushes or anxiety while shopping, like you’ve done something dangerous? Do you feel embarrassed or guilty about your actions, leading to conflict with loved ones? Do you often buy things that you never use?

As with any other addiction, if you think you might be a shopaholic, help is out there – contact Shopaholics Anonymous for resources in your area, reach out to a loved one, or speak to your doctor.