Most people like to shop at least a little bit but for some, an obsession to “shop ‘till they drop” takes over and causes then to rack up credit cards and overspend to a point in which their behaviors lead to many adverse consequences. Shopping addiction has many of the same characteristics as any substance abuse addiction in that the shopper just doesn’t feel good until they have over-gone their limit when shopping. Many excessive shoppers will compulsively spend hundreds or even hundreds of thousands of dollars before realizing that they have a problem and need help.
According to Indiana University, compulsive shopping can be a seasonal disorder (often around the holidays) or it can be an on-going disorder. The excessive need that shopaholics feel for the “pick me up” that comes from shopping can lead to an overabundance of purchases, typically that have little or no need or necessity for the shopper besides that they wanted the item so they purchased it.
What is Shopping Addiction?
Shopping addiction actually has a technical term that is called Omniomania. This means compulsive shopping and is perhaps the most socially reinforced of the behavioral addictions. Shopping addiction is characterized by the widespread desire to shop and purchase items despite a need for such items or despite a necessary ability to afford such items. Consumerism is one of the biggest measures of social elite in America and this makes shopping addiction an even more widespread problem for many.
Shopping addiction is not a newfound disorder. It has affected millions of people for many years and dates back to as early as the 19th century. Friends and family members go out and shop together, people shop socially, people shop for something to do and people shop to fulfill negative emotions. An addiction to shopping leads to compulsive shopping that can result in many negative feelings. According to the US National Library of Medicine, over 5% of Americans are affected by compulsive buying disorder.
Effects of Shopping Addiction
Compulsive shopping disorder has many negative consequences that can be physical, financial, and emotional and otherwise hindering to the addict.
Some of the effects of shopping addiction include:
- Spending too much money when you don’t have money to spend
- Shopping to heal pain or social anxiety
- Feeling anxious about shopping
- Feeling guilt or anger after shopping and overspending
- Decreased self-esteem as a result of overspending when you intended not to
- Relationship loss as a result of shopping when you were not supposed to or promised that you wouldn’t
Recognizing the Signs of Shopping Addiction
A concerned friend or family member may be able to quickly and easily spot the signs of a shopping addiction even before the addict himself can notice such signs.
Some of the signs of shopping addiction include:
- Overspending. If you find that you constantly overspend and take money from your budgeted expenses to cover a shopping excursion than you may be a victim of shopping addiction.
- Compulsive purchases. If you compulsive purchase items despite a need to buy something or if you notice that you buy ten pairs of shoes at a time instead of just one, there could be a problem.
- Chronic shopping. If you notice that you don’t just overspend once in a while or you don’t just over shop once in a while than you may have a chronic shopping addiction problem.
- Lying about the problem. Do your friends or family members constantly want to know where your money is going but you tell lies about it? If you lie about your shopping in an effort to cover up what is really going on there could be a problem.
- Shopping, guilt, shopping, guilt. According to Columbia University, shopping addicts usually feel guilt, anger, and/or sadness following the initial euphoria of shopping. If your shopping leads to guilt and yet you shop again, you could have a problem.
- Broken relationships from shopping. Does your spending or desire to shop lead to broken relationships? If your desire to shop has caused havoc on your relationships and despite your desire to do better you continue to shop then there is a problem.
- Consequences don’t help. If you know that there will be consequences if you shop but you still decide to spend money than you are stuck with the consequences. The consequences may include relationship troubles, financial troubles, regret and guilt.
Additional Signs or Behaviors that Could be a Sign of Shopping Addiction
If you show any of these additional signs or behaviors, you could have a significant problem that warrants the need for intervention, counseling or treatment for a shopping addiction:
- Spending money when you are angry
- Spending money when you are depressed
- Spending money when you are anxious
- Spending money when you are depressed
- Arguing about spending habits
- Feeling lost if you are not spending
- Purchasing items on credit when you don’t have the cash to cover them
- Feeling a rush when shopping
- Feeling guilty or embarrassed about shopping after the fact
- Obsessing about money
Difference Between a Shopping Spree & Shopping Addiction
Not all people who go out on a spending spree are shopaholics. Some can go out and spend moderately or even a bit more than moderately and sill not be considered addicts. Others who shop may have an uncontrollable desire and urge to shop that is conclusive to a shopping addiction.
There are differences between shopping sprees and shopping addiction:
- A shopping spree leads to excessive purchases but typically is backed by the money necessary to spend on the shopping
- A shopping addiction is an excessive or compulsive shopping event that is often paid for by credit cards or other methods
- A shopping spree is a one time or occasional thing
- A shopping addiction is typically a routine action
- A shopping spree usually takes place around a special holiday or event
- A shopping addiction can take place anytime
Help for Shopping Addiction
There are many ways that you can change your behavior or limit your shopping to reduce the negative impact of shopping.
For instance, some of the basic behaviors that can be changed to eliminate a shopping addiction include:
- Admitting that you have a problem
- Making a list and checking it twice to ensure that only necessary items are on the list
- Getting rid of checkbooks or credit cards that can only fuel a shopping addiction
- Finding ways to spend time productively without shopping
- Taking a friend or family member with you when shopping and making sure that they are ready to provide you with support to prevent unnecessary purchases
- Avoiding urges to spend, if you feel like shopping, take time to think about whether or not you really need to shop before you actually go out and spend
Treatment for Shopping Addiction
Researches indicate that as many as 75% of shoppers who are compulsive shoppers will admit to a problem but they don’t know how to get help. Shopaholics have problems with their friends, family members, finances and general relationships. Although there are many reasons that an individual may shop and each of these reasons can lead to a different method of treatment the general options for treatment of shopping addiction include:
- Behavioral therapy – this method of treatment aims to change negative behaviors such as poor spending habits into more positive behaviors.
- Cognitive therapy – this method of treatment aims to help the shopaholic learn how to change their thought processes and stop thinking about shopping. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy showed the effectiveness of this method.
- Financial counseling – this is often necessary to get the compulsive shopper back on track and to stop overspending
- Self-help books – many self-help guides are available to assist shoppers in finding methods of having fun without spending
- Medications – sometimes, shopping is the result of depression, anxiety or another mental illness which is treatable with medication. A Standford University Report showed that antidepressants in particular were able to help treat compulsive buying disorder.
How you can help a family member who is a shopaholic
Family members and loved ones who are addicted to shopping need as much help as they can get when it comes to curing their addiction. Many times, shopping addiction will lead to hoarding which is an obsessive compulsive disorder that is associated with keeping EVERYTHING. Some hoarders are collectors and only hoard certain things while others may hoard just about anything from a new item to a box or bag that an item came in to the trash from yesterday’s meal. Hoarding can be a very dangerous condition that can lead to fire hazards in homes, dangerous living spaces and disease or infestations that can make the individual sick.
Help from Friends:
- Support your friend. If you have a friend who has a shopping addiction, the best thing you can do for them is to provide support. If they want to shop, try to make excuses for them to find other things to do or if they do go to the store, go with them and monitor their spending and purchases.
- Financial help. Don’t pay the bills for the shopping addict because this will only facilitate their shopping addiction further. Instead, help them to understand what their budget is and if they do have extra money, then you can help them learn how to save or what they can or should spend the money on.
- Counseling. Your friend with a shopping addiction may not be ready to admit that they have an addiction or that they need help. You can help them by getting them to agree to counseling and also by helping them to find counseling that will meet their needs
Tips for Avoiding a Shopping Binge
Recovery from shopping addiction has a long and difficult road that is often plagued by the urge to spend. You can avoid a shopping binge by taking part in other actions, distracting yourself and trying to find a better way to manage your urge or to control your desire to shop.
Here are a few tips that you can use to avoid a shopping binge:
- Pay for all purchases with cash – it’s easier to keep track of cash than to keep track of a check or debit or credit card so you will likely spend less
- Make a shopping list and stick to it
- Get rid of your credit cards and if you do choose to keep any credit cards, keep them in a safe place for emergencies only
- Avoid clearance isles, discount warehouses and other places where “deals” may be found. If the deal is not on the list—you don’t need it!
- If you must shop, window shop. Check out items that you wish you could buy and make a list. If after a few weeks you still want the item and you’ve controlled your spending for a prolonged period of time than you can indulge and make a wish list purchase
- Purchase gifts well before the holiday and don’t make any additional purchases once shopping is complete
All of these tips can help you to spend less money, avoid havoc and prevent over shopping. Shopping addiction is difficult to cope with and in some cases, even the support that you receive from friends or family just won’t be enough. If you find that you need additional support, there are various shopping addiction support groups that focus on impulsive shopping, debt and other problems associated with shopping which may be of help to you.
Support Groups for Shopping Addiction
The following support groups could help you or someone you love overcome a shopping addiction or at least get their addiction under control. Some of the groups focus on completely not shopping at all while others approach the legal, financial or relationship issues that surround a typically shopping addiction.
You may find help in one or all of the following shopping addiction support groups:
- Spenders Anonymous – a support group based on the 12 step model of treatment that was originally outlined by Alcoholics Anonymous, Spenders Anonymous is dedicated to providing support to those who overspend on shopping
- Debtors Anonymous – a support group that shares the strengths, experiences, hope and recovery for those who have compulsive debt as a result of spending and shopping
- Online Support – there are many online support groups that can help you to stop spending or at least to reduce your shopping addiction and the negative effects that the addiction has on you. If you are a compulsive online spender, these groups could lead you online more and may not be most beneficial but the forums and chat areas available in these online shopping addiction support groups have helped many people admit to their problem and decide to seek further help.