Although the term “shopaholic” is often used lightly to describe anyone who loves to shop, a shopping addiction is a serious problem that can have many negative consequences. Like other addictions and compulsive behaviors, excessive shopping and spending can result in a person needing professional help to regain control of his or her life.
If you or someone you know needs help for a shopping addiction, please call 1-888-287-0471 or complete the contact form for confidential support and assistance.
Shopping Addiction Signs and Symptoms
Because shopping is considered an acceptable pastime and is even encouraged by societal norms, a problem with it can be easy to overlook and difficult to identify. A person with plenty of disposable income and a love for fashion could easily shop daily for clothing without friends and family considering the possibility of the habit being an addiction. Whether the person is truly addicted depends on several factors, though. A love of shopping does not indicate an addiction; however, repeatedly shopping in spite of negative consequences can signify a problem.
The problems and behaviors that occur with a shopping addiction are very similar to those experienced by people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. A person with a shopping addiction may try to hide his or her activities from loved ones and will often resort to the behavior in times of stress.
Fact:Shopping addicts can experience a high or euphoric feeling from neurological chemicals when they make purchases. The brief spike in dopamine and other neurotransmitters causes the brain to view shopping as a rewarding experience and reinforces repetition of the activity.
Other signs and symptoms of a shopping addiction include a tendency to purchase items but not use or wear them, conflicts with family over spending habits, debt from excessive spending, juggling accounts and missing bill payments to purchase more items, anxious feelings before, during, or after shopping, a sense that shopping is forbidden or reckless, and a tendency to use checks or credit cards for unnecessary purchases when running low on cash.
“Shopping addicts tend to have obsessive thoughts about the shopping experience…”Shopping addicts tend to have obsessive thoughts about the shopping experience, and this can make it difficult for them to concentrate at work or in their interpersonal relationships. Some addicts spend a lot of time thinking about the details of each upcoming excursion, from the stores they will visit to the outfits they will wear while shopping. Obsessive thinking and planning are especially common in those who are trying to hide their behaviors from others.
The addiction can be cyclical. For example, the person may go on a shopping spree because he or she feels angry, worried, or depressed. The purchases help relieve these uncomfortable feelings, but the relief is only temporary. The person may ultimately feel worse after the shopping spree because of guilt or anxiety regarding his or her spending habits. These feelings then cause the person to seek more relief through another round of shopping, although some will attempt to return their purchases after the spree is over. Some people may not even remember purchasing a few of the items they unwrap when they return to their homes.
Causes and Comorbidity
A shopping addiction can co-occur with another condition known as hoarding. People who compulsively shop and/or hoard items often refer to their overabundance of items as collections, and they have difficulties getting rid of the items and refraining from purchasing more of them. This is often due to an emotional attachment to the items. The person may experience significant distress or anxiety at the thought of losing their possessions.
“People who are addicted to shopping or spending may also suffer from depression or anxiety. “People who are addicted to shopping or spending may also suffer from depression or anxiety. These conditions can fuel the behavior and may be related to some of the other underlying causes of compulsive shopping. Perfectionism is one trait that is thought to contribute to the problem. People with low self-esteem or overly high expectations for themselves may shop for the best and latest items in an attempt to feel better about themselves and impress others. Shopping can also provide people with a stronger sense of control over their surroundings.
For some shopping addicts, purchases temporarily fill a perceived inner void. A person who is suffering from a significant loss, such as the death of a close family member, may be driven to shop to take his or her mind off the loss. Certain items can provide comfort or give the person a sense of completeness, but because this feeling doesn’t last, the person feels the need to make additional purchases.
These issues are explored during treatment for shopping addiction, which helps people overcome obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. If you are interested in treatment for yourself or a loved one, enter your information in the brief contact form or call 1-888-287-0471. This toll-free hotline is available 24/7.
Confronting a Loved One with a Shopping Addiction
A shopping addiction can be misinterpreted or misunderstood by close friends and family members, and this can make it more difficult to encourage the person to enter and complete treatment. Spouses, for example, may believe their husbands or wives are simply irresponsible with money or uncaring about the needs of their families. It is common for family members to feel angry or unappreciated when living with a shopping addict. These feelings are understandable; however, it’s rarely the addict’s intent to harm others. He or she may feel worse about the inability to control the behavior when it places strain on others, and this discomfort can influence the person to shop or spend even more.
Fact:Like drug addicts, shopping addicts can experience uncontrollable urges to repeat negative behaviors.
Although it can be difficult, it is helpful to approach the person with concern for his or her well-being rather than accusations. Understanding and support from loved ones can help a person accept the need for treatment. This does not mean the family cannot express the problems and frustrations they are experiencing. During an intervention, it is important that the person see how his or her behaviors affect others. The tone and approach used when doing this can make a difference, though. If you wish to confront a loved one about a shopping addiction and are unsure about the best approach, consider employing the help of a professional counselor.
Shopping Addiction Treatments
The treatments used for a shopping addiction are essentially the same as those used for a drug or alcohol addiction. There is one major difference between the recovery processes, however. Unlike a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, a person who is addicted to shopping cannot set a goal to completely stop using. Shopping is a necessary part of life, and refraining from doing any shopping whatsoever is unrealistic. Instead of focusing on abstinence, shopping addiction treatment focuses on underlying issues, responsible behaviors, healthy habits, and relapse prevention.
To explore the available treatment options, call 1-888-287-0471 or complete our contact form. A confidential advisor will refer you to qualified professionals.
Support GroupsShopping addiction support groups are available as a supplement to professional treatment and for those who wish to address the problem without counseling. A multifaceted approach using a combination of different methods is recommended, however. These support groups generally follow a 12-step model similar to the ones used in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Shopaholics Anonymous can assist with compulsive shopping habits, whereas Debtors Anonymous helps people with compulsive spending and financial problems. A person can attend both groups if needed.
MedicationDuring the initial phase of treatment, a mental health professional will assess the person for psychological disorders and conditions that may influence compulsive behaviors. If the person has depression or an anxiety disorder, a physician or psychiatrist may prescribe antidepressants or antianxiety medications to help the person manage his or her symptoms. With treatment for the underlying condition, the person may experience a significant reduction in obsessive thoughts and urges to shop. Medication is only one aspect of the treatment.
CounselingShopping addiction treatment often includes cognitive therapy to examine the person’s thought processes and help him or her manage obsessive thoughts. Cognitive therapy also explores the triggers to compulsive shopping. For example, some addicts may feel the need to shop after arguing with loved ones, whereas others are driven to do so when feeling bored. After identifying these triggers, the person and therapist can work on the development of healthier coping skills. If familial relationships are the person’s primary source of stress, the therapist may recommend family therapy as well. Behavioral therapy is another helpful approach and is often combined with cognitive therapy. This form of therapy can assist the person with developing healthier habits and managing stress, and it often includes a behavioral modification plan with specific goals. The goals may include cutting up credit cards, cancelling magazine subscriptions, limiting online browsing, and starting a new hobby. This is a gradual process. The person is not expected to achieve each goal within a short period of time. The therapist may also encourage the person to replace shopping with a different activity, such as exercising or calling a friend. Couples therapy or marriage counseling may also be part of the treatment plan, and the person’s spouse can play an important role in the recovery process. Therapy sessions provide a safe place for the couple to discuss problems associated with the addiction, and they facilitate a better understanding of the problem for both parties. This can help the couple rebuild any lost trust and work toward a healthier relationship. Depending on the severity of problematic behaviors and the nature of the couple’s relationship, an agreement may be reached in which the addict’s spouse temporarily takes total control of the couple’s finances. A person with a shopping addiction can benefit from debt counseling or credit counseling while receiving psychological treatment, especially if the addiction caused serious financial problems. Getting back out of debt can help relieve stress, and a reduction in stress aids the recovery process. The person can also hire someone to manage his or her finances or use the help of a trusted friend or family member for this.
BibliotherapySelf-help strategies are often recommended in addition to professional treatment. A therapist may assign books about shopping addiction for homework between sessions or simply encourage the person to seek them out. Workbooks for the addiction or stress management can be used as well. These may include activities such as lists that prompt the person to separate wants and needs and instructions for using different types of relaxation techniques.
Inpatient Vs. Outpatient Treatment for a Shopping Addiction
Although inpatient treatment is typically used for substance abuse, it is available to people who struggle with impulsivity and compulsive behaviors. Inpatient treatment may be ideal for those who are experiencing significant stress at home and those who have lost their homes because of their spending habits. Inpatient treatment can address the addiction and help people prepare for living their lives successfully back in the community. This intensive level of treatment is not always necessary, though. A person can overcome his or her shopping addiction in outpatient treatment, and in some cases, self-help methods are sufficient for making a full recovery.
With inpatient treatment, the person has 24-hour support and is encouraged to participate in a range of activities each day. Rehab centers typically provide individual or one-on-counseling, group counseling, educational sessions, and structured recreational sessions. Outpatient treatment generally consists of routine therapy sessions and the use of bibliotherapy and support groups. In either setting, the person can also receive help for underlying mental health conditions.
The best approach depends on the person, and a mental health professional can assess the circumstances to recommend the most suitable treatment setting and strategies. To get started with this process for overcoming a shopping addiction, enter your information in our contact form or call 1-888-287-0471. This national hotline is free to call and available day or night to answer your questions and provide the assistance you need.