To directly quote Rebecca Bloomberg from the hit movie, ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic,’ “When I shop, the world gets better, and the world is better, but then it's not, and I need to do it again.” No truer words can be said from a person with an addiction to shopping. To put what she so eloquently said very simply, ‘everything is great when you’re high, then the world comes tumbling down when you’re not; rinse and repeat.’ This movie pokes fun at a woman that suffers from an addiction to shopping; it’s cutesy, a bit cheesy, and not to spoil the ending, but when she finally realizes that she’s an addict, she seeks help and shares what she’s going through with close friends. She took a step to recovery, and if Rebecca can do it, so can you.
In all seriousness, shopping addiction, or sometimes referred to as compulsive buying disorder or compulsive shopping, is a genuine thing that affects close to 17 million adults or 5% of the U.S. population. According to the World Psychiatric Association, Compulsive Buying Disorder is characterized by excessive shopping cognitions and buying behavior that leads to distress or impairment regardless of need or financial means.
Let’s be honest, we all enjoy #treatingourselves to a little shopping from time to time, but compulsive shopping is a serious mental health disorder that, if not treated, can cause severe consequences, such as financial hardships and losing friends or loved ones.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) does not officially recognize shopping addiction as a distinct disorder, and there is substantial debate surrounding its legitimacy as an addiction of any kind. However, a person with a shopping addiction is said to experience the same rush or high from buying things as a drug addict would when they’re using. Once the brain correlates shopping with the high, the shopping addict will continually try to recreate the feeling.
Like other behavioral addictions, such as an addiction to sex and love, there is very little known. Still, some studies have shown that women are more likely to suffer from a shopping addiction than a man (how’s that for sexism), and the most common age of a shopping addict is 30 years old. However, to gain better insight, more research still needs to be done.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to shopping, read on to uncover information about the symptoms, causes, risks, and treatment options.
Like a person who has bulimia would hide food, a shopping addict may hide their purchases and problems well enough for no one to realize they are actually suffering from a mental health disorder. Only those closest to them may be able to recognize the signs of their shopping addiction. Compulsive shoppers are known to give others around them the idea that they are more wealthy than they really are when they are deeply in debt.
A person with a shopping addiction may:
Schedule time to shop each day or week, regardless of their other priorities.
Have countless unopened or tagged items
Obsess over making daily or weekly purchases
Use shopping as a coping mechanism.
Have multiple maxed-out credit cards that they aren’t able to pay
Feel euphoric or overly excited while shopping or after making purchases
Constantly buy things unnecessarily that usually go unused.
Begin to steal when their credit limit is reached to continue buying
Feel regret or remorse after a shopping spree, but don’t stop
They are unable to manage money properly.
Fail when they’ve tried to stop compulsively shopping
Feel overly anxious on days that they don’t shop
Cancel plans or activities with friends, family, or co-workers to go shopping
Constantly make excuses for their shopping habits.
Unfortunately, we live in an extremely materialistic society where people measure success on the things they possess. The phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” comes to mind when thinking about this topic. We always want more than our neighbor, but when spending becomes an addiction, the glitter falls off, and the mounting debt shines through.
Since there is very little research on what actually causes someone to become a shopaholic, we can only assume that the things that cause someone to suffer from other addictions are similar or close to the same. Most causes of shopping addiction are psychological. Generally, a person who experiences emotions of loneliness, depression, or the feeling of being out of control to seek to spend money and shop to alleviate that stress and anxiety. Like other addictions, having an addiction to spending is usually rooted in other, preexisting mental health issues, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or trauma.
Other psychological conditions that can be associate with a shopping addiction are:
Being deprived of emotion as a child
Needing to ‘fill the void’ with material things
Inability to tolerate criticism or negative feelings
Feeling a need to control everything.
If you’ve gotten this far and have realized that you or someone you love has an addiction to shopping, try not to fret. There are a few ways to prevent a shopping addiction from getting worse, and fortunately, if you can implement at least one, there’s still hope for you to live a happy and hopefully debt-free life.
A few ways to prevent a shopping addiction are:
Find a new activity - Exercise, listen to music, meditate, pick up a good book, learn a new language — any of these activities can potentially be a substitute for shopping.
Identify what triggers you to want to shop - Start taking note when you feel like you want to head to Target for just one item. Triggers can include stress at work, a fight with your partner, or a tantrum that your child just threw. When you start to feel overwhelmed, it may be a smart idea to pick up that new activity you just discovered
Remove or decrease the temptation - Limit the number of shopping trips per week or block your favorite online retailers from your internet browser.
Carry just enough cash - Put your assets ‘on ice’ and leave all credit and debit cards at home. Put a list together to manage to spend
Ask for help - As simple as this sounds, it’s not, but it’s probably the most effective as you will have another person to keep you in check.
Shopping addiction can be challenging to manage, as making purchases is a normal part of everyday life. Everyone has to purchase food regularly and things like clothing, personal products, and cars from time to time. But simply ceasing to buy can’t treat a shopping addiction.
Depending on the severity of the shopping addiction, the compulsive buyer may need to be “cut off” from cash flow.
Someone else may need to be in charge of their finances. A person with a shopping addiction may need to check into an inpatient addiction program in rare cases.
Other ways to get help with your shopping addiction include:
Online counseling has become wildly popular in 2020; with the hit of COVID-19 and Shelter-In-Place ordinances, seeing a Licensed therapist became quite impossible. Online counseling gives patients similar and just as significant counseling opportunities, making it easy and convenient to seek alcohol addiction treatment. Online counseling offers you the ability to talk to a therapist specializing in shopping addiction from the comfort of your own space. There is also no travel time, no need to arrange for a babysitter if you have children, and one of the best benefits is that you can speak to an online therapist at any point during the day.
A few online therapists include:
Those suffering from an addiction to shopping tend to do best when supported by others who are also experiencing addiction and on the road to recovery. This makes group therapy an ideal course of action, so addicts can find a group focused on shopping addiction, helping them realize that their problems are not unique. This realization can help ease the shame, guilt, and remorse they feel about their addiction.
This type of care focuses on the individual's problems. After one person shares, other people in the group are encouraged to share their similar thoughts and experiences, leading to a mutual understanding that other people also struggle with shopping addiction -- that you don’t have to face this journey alone. Creating a support network of friends with shopping addictions can overcome their issues and go on to live a healthy and fulfilling life.
Group therapy options include:
Simply put, treatment aims to interrupt the self-perpetuating cycle, face the issue, and develop new, healthy ways of thinking, feeling, and acting.