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.

Overcoming a Shopping Addiction

shopping addiction recoveryA shopping addiction is a slippery slope to tumble down. It starts off seeming harmless and before you know it, you are unable to pay your bills and are driving away your significant other. Shopping addiction can become ugly quickly, which is why it is important to overcome your shopping addiction and stop it in its tracks. You may feel like this is impossible because you have tried and failed at it before, but rest assured, you can be in control of your shopping habits by being diligent in your recovery.

The first step is beating your denial. This is the hardest part of confronting an addiction, yet it is essential for every addict to face. Be willing to admit that you have a problem. Recognize that, for whatever reason, shopping gives your brain the dopamine that it craves and somewhere along the line, you began to depend on it for happiness, stress relief and normalcy. Accepting and understanding your own mental condition is an imperative step to recovery.

The next step is taking your recovery seriously. It is easy to scoff at shopping addiction and make light of it because it does not involve needles or narcotics or overdoses. But if you ever hope to beat your shopping addiction, you must take the consequences that it can have on your life seriously. The fact of the matter is, a shopping addiction can leave your life in shambles. Friends, family, coworkers and financial institutions will becomes discouraged with you as you spend all your resources on shopping. In taking your recovery seriously, you must become aware of your triggers and learn how to manage them. You must find healthier ways of spending your time, money and energy in order to balance yourself. You must teach yourself how to reach out for help and be vulnerable. And you must create for yourself a healthy support system if you do not already have one.

A shopping addiction can be a menace to your life, but there is hope of overcoming it. If you have tried and failed on your own, do not be ashamed to reach out for help from mental health professionals or addiction specialists. You will not be judged or laughed at. Shopping addiction is recognized as a legitimate condition and the help of a mental health professional can be exactly what you need to get your life back.

How to Identify a Shopping Addict

identify shopping addictionShopping addiction is not a laughing matter. It is possible for people to latch onto shopping as their source of happiness and therapy, and as a means of alleviating stress. If this becomes a life long pattern, the individual is in for a rocky road. Shopping addictions are known to destroy people’s finances, relationships and reputations. They reduce intelligent people to desperation and dysfunction. The first step in defeating a shopping addiction is identifying it. Here is a description of some of the most common signs and symptoms of a shopping addiction:

  • Hoards of possessions. Shopping and hoarding go hand in hand together. Because it is an addiction, the addict can never satisfy their craving for buying new things, and the amount they accumulate becomes overwhelming. If you or someone you know does not have control over their stuff per space ratio, it is entirely possible that they have a shopping addiction.
  • Consistent money problems. Constant financial hardships can be a sign of a number of addictions because so many addictions require substantial funding. A shopping addiction is particularly hard on the wallet because part of the addiction is handing the money over. A sense of power and pleasure is derived from exchanging money for possessions, so if this attribute is something you are observing, it could indicate a shopping addiction.
  • Turning to shopping to alleviate stress. A person’s shopping addiction can be observed in their behavior. In times of stress or trouble is when a person’s addiction flare up most violently. They become desperate to turn to the thing that they know calms them. When a shopping addict is stressed, they will compulsively gravitate toward their favorite stores where they know they can spend money on items they value. The change in their behavior is instantaneous. They are suddenly calm, collected and satisfied. If you observe this type of shift in behavior after shopping, be wary of a shopping addiction.
  • A majority of time goes to shopping. A compulsive shopper will also want to spend their time doing almost nothing but shopping. Shopping is a socially acceptable activity, and it is not uncommon for people to want to shop. But when someone becomes obsessed with shopping, they need to check their behavior for signs of a shopping addiction.

Do Shopping Addicts Need Treatment?

treatment for shopping addictionWhen the term “shopping addict” is used in all seriousness, you can almost hear people’s eyes rolling at how quickly the idea is brushed off. After all, isn’t the word addiction saved for life threatening things like a cocaine addiction or a meth addiction? The answer is no. Addiction is all around us. It exists in the form of sugar addiction, salt addiction, phone addiction and yes, you guessed it, shopping addiction. A shopping addiction is a very real and very serious things. Does it pose as immediate a threat as a cocaine or meth addiction? No. But, can it ruin your life over time? Absolutely. People with shopping addictions, particularly severe ones, need to bring their bad habit of over shopping to an end by any means necessary.

Does this mean that shopping addicts need addiction treatment? The answer is complicated. Professional treatment, in the form of rehabilitation or counseling, is not for everyone. There are many people who are capable of using self help resources to heal their addiction problems, and others yet who derive their strength from support groups or other close relationships. However, any addiction, be it to shopping or gambling or a substance, warrants treatment when the addict wants to quit, has tried to quit and has failed. This is a sign that help is needed, which is natural and normal as we are social beings that are required to reach out for help sometimes in life in order to survive.

One does not even need to think of themselves as an addict, if that term comes too loaded with stigmas and stereotypes, one can simply identify that they are doing something that has become a problem. Shopping compulsively means that a person is shopping with little to no regard for healthy budgeting, impulse control or space management. It is only a matter of time before they are unable to pay their bills or keep a handle on their lives. If that is not serious, it is hard to say what is. If a shopping addiction is robbing you of normalcy, look into addiction treatment. It just might be the thing that can turn your life around!

Confronting a Shopping Addiction

confront shopping addictionA shopping addiction is the compulsion to spend money on commodities, large or small. It is not an addiction in the traditional sense, in that it is putting you or others in immediate danger. Rather, it is detrimental to you on a different level, wreaking havoc on your finances, negatively impacting your relationships and taking your focus and energy off of things that are more important. Often, addiction to shopping goes unnoticed in our consumer society, where invasive marketing tells us we need to shop in order to be functional. However, addiction to shopping is something that is damaging lives daily and needs to be addressed.

The compulsion to shop uncontrollably usually develops like all addictions do: an inability to cope and manage in a healthy way. Shopping is a comfort and an indulgence that gives people endorphins and dopamine to relax them and make them happy. Just like drugs, alcohol, sex or gambling, shopping is some people’s “feel good” ritual, and just like other addictions it comes with heavy consequences. Financial crisis is the most obvious symptom of a shopping addiction. Credit card bills and balances become unmanageable, throwing the shopping addict into depression which only makes them want to shop more. Personal relationships also come under strain as friends and family begin to notice the problem. Financial disagreements are one of the leading causes for break-ups in romantic relationships, which a shopping addiction can initiate rapidly. A shopping addiction also distracts the addict from real life obligations and is too frequently used as a crutch to avoid dealing with problems responsibly.

Shopping addiction is not a common reason for seeking addiction treatment, however, the addict should bring their compulsion under control by whatever means necessary to prevent disastrous life consequences. Often people turn to self-help literature or a financial adviser to curb their shopping addiction, which can be very effective. If the compulsion is too strong for these methods, there are also online or in-person support groups for shopping addicts which can be enormously helpful.