Shopping addiction is also known as compulsive-buying disorder or compulsive shopping. It affects about six percent of the U.S. population. While many people enjoy shopping or treat it as a recreational activity, compulsive shopping is a mental health disorder and can cause severe consequences for the addict.
Shopping addiction is the compulsion to spend money, regardless of need or financial means. The addict may be addicted to a certain product, such as clothes or jewelry, but he or she may also buy anything from food and beauty products to stocks or real estate. Medical experts believe that a compulsive shopper gets the same rush or “high” from making purchases as a drug addict gets from using. Once the brain associates shopping with this pleasure or high, the addict tries to re-create it again and again.
The people closest to the addict are sometimes the only ones to know about the problem. This is because addicts will hide their problem well. They may hide their purchases, or make it seem as if they have plenty of money to shop without limits. Many compulsive shoppers convey an image of wealth and success while in reality they are deeply in debt. If they are unable to stop shopping or suffer from large amounts of shopping debt, an addiction may be present. A shopping addict may:
- show an obsession with making purchases on a daily or weekly basis
- shop to cope with stress
- max out credit cards or opening new ones without pay off previous balances
- feel intense euphoria or excitement after making purchases
- buy unnecessary things or purchase items that go unused
- steal or lie in order to continue the habit
- feel regret or remorse over purchases but continue to shop
- be unable to pay off debt or manage money
- fail in attempts to stop compulsive shopping
Shopping addiction can be difficult to manage, as making purchases is a normal part of everyday life. We must all purchase food regularly and things like clothing, personal products, and cars from time to time. This means that a shopping addiction can’t be treated by just stopping the act of buying.
Depending on the severity of the addiction, a shopping addict may need to be removed from daily activities or initially “cut off” from cash flow. Someone else may need to be in charge of their finances. In rare cases, an addict may need to attend an inpatient addiction program.
Most often, however, a shopping addiction can be treated with behavioral therapy and individual counseling. The addict must learn how to develop impulse control and also to identify triggers. In many cases, shopping addiction may stem from deeper emotional issues or mental health conditions. If it stems from depression or other clinical mental health problems, medication may help. It may be helpful to explore this possibility with a mental health expert.
Shopping addicts can also benefit from money management classes or 12-step recovery programs like Shopaholics Anonymous or Debtors Anonymous. These are groups that offer a positive source of support during recovery. For many, they are long-term coping tools and are used for years after recovery begins.
If the addiction is left untreated, compulsive shoppers will find themselves going further and further into debt. They may lose friends and the trust of loved ones in the process. They could even lose their home or property if they are unable to manage their money. Arrests and criminal charges may occur if the addict turns to stealing to support their habit. Sometimes, addicts “hit bottom” and are ready to ask for help only once serious events like this occur.
Initially, shopping addicts may need a family member or close friend to help them manage money in the early stages of recovery. Ultimately, however, it is their responsibility to learn appropriate spending habits. The most difficult part of a shopping addiction is dealing with the financial results of the addictive behavior. The addict may need to file for bankruptcy, refinance his or her mortgage, or take on an extra job in order to pay off debt. Also, a shopping addict may have a hard time finding a job or renting a home if his or her credit score was severely affected.
Despite the challenges, however, a shopping addict can typically learn to manage the addiction and adopt healthier spending behaviors. Like other addictions, a shopping addict may relapse. But, with the right support in place he or she can learn coping strategies and get back on the road to recovery.