Shopping addiction or compulsive shopping is a disorder in which an individual engages in a pattern of chronic, repetitive purchasing and shopping that he or she cannot stop, even after severe negative consequences. Compulsive buying disorder (CBD) is the term used by the American Psychiatric Association to describe compulsive shopping or shopping addiction. When considering shopping addiction, one may think it’s merely irresponsibility with finances or lack of maturity that requires no more than a person to change his or her behavior. However, this damaging disorder is centered around the process of spending, and the addict does not have control over him or herself, nor can the behavior merely be stopped. Cessation of compulsive shopping requires treatment, just as with any other addiction or impulse control disorder, like pathological gambling (gambling addiction). Much like those suffering from any behavioral addiction, a shopping addict’s behaviors can be linked to his or her pain, trauma, and co-occurring disorders.
Who is at Risk for Shopping Addiction?
Shopping is a part of life for most people whether it is in a store or online. For many, shopping is a pleasurable activity, as there is a reward when a purchase has been completed. A new shirt or dress, a fun trinket, colorful accessories, or new shoes can give any person a sense of reward. Humans experience a natural high when a reward is received, and in some people, the pursuit of that reward can become compulsive and dangerous. Just as addiction to drugs and other behaviors, shopping addiction drives one to seek out the reward associated with shopping compulsively.
Approximately 6% of the American population is thought to have a shopping addiction, and it usually begins in the late teenage years, and into the early twenties. This is an essential time in one’s life, as it is in the late teens and early twenties that most people begin to get credit cards, have their bank accounts and are mostly independent of their parents for the first time. A young person’s first credit card, or opportunity to spend for him or herself can be an exciting time, but compulsive shopping can develop within this time frame.
Shopping Addiction and Mental Health Disorders
When spending money to get a reward of something new, there is a dopamine release in the brain that leads to a “high,” which is extremely mild for most people. Nonetheless, this rush of pleasure experienced by one who has just completed a purchase can be overwhelming for those who suffer from some mental health issues. While some mental health concerns may be more severe than others, anything from overly high expectations of oneself to bipolar disorder and other impulse control disorders may lead to and exacerbate, shopping addiction.
Hoarding is characterized by excessive acquisition and inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of items. Often referred to by the individual as a “collection,” there is an emotional bond created between that person and his or her things. A hoarder will compulsively purchase more and more of these items to grow the collection, but the dysfunction is evident when one does not open or use the items purchased, and experiences tremendous difficulty with the thought of losing them. Hoarding is one of many behavioral disorders that leads to, and severely exacerbates shopping addiction, as one who hoards is continuously compelled to add more to his or her collection, regardless of financial troubles or any other dysfunction experienced as a result of hoarding and spending.
- Depression and Anxiety
No matter what the cause, when someone suffers from depression and anxiety, shopping and spending can become easily addictive. Because the purchase of new items produces a release of dopamine, the brain receives a reward message, which reinforces the repetition of the behavior. For one who is struggling with depression, the pleasure associated with spending can provide a temporary release from his/her depressive state. Compulsive shopping and spending can be a form of self-medicating for those suffering from depression, as well as anxiety. For those who deal with stress, compulsive shopping may help differently. There is typically a build-up of anxiety just before completing a transaction to purchase an item, followed by an immediate “high” of pleasure, and release of tension. Although temporary and no solution to the problem, relief of the anxiety one experiences just before spending is still a relief of anxiety. In this way, shopping and spending can be a self-medicating exercise for those suffering from anxiety, and reinforce repetition of the behavior.
- Low Self-Esteem
Those who suffer from low self-esteem may do so for any number of reasons, and the effects of low self-esteem on any given individual can vary in each person who suffers from it. An especially damaging way in which some people respond to low self-esteem is by setting overly high expectations in an attempt to feel better about themselves and impress others for external sources of gratification. This behavior can be seen in those who seek out the latest and greatest of whatever they can purchase. These types of people are never satisfied with something that will suffice, but instead insist on having the most cutting-edge version, best quality available, or the latest release of an item. This can range from clothing to technology, and even food and lodging. Because shopping and spending do not resolve any problems with low self-esteem, there is always a void in the individuals who continually seek to fill it with material things. As this behavior progresses, the need to shop and procure more items for a sense of self-worth gets stronger, and the individual loses control over his or her spending. As technology and products continue to evolve, and the individual’s need to have them deepens, the process of shopping for the newest thing never stops.
These are some examples of conditions that may cause and exacerbate shopping addiction. The fact is that almost anyone could potentially become addicted to shopping. After all, shopping is a pleasurable experience, and there is a definite reward associated with the experience of spending money. For those addicted to shopping, this process serves as an escape from reality, relief from other disorders, or in conjunction with co-occurring disorders. Whatever the circumstances may be that are fueling a shopping addiction, serious negative consequences are inherent to the problem and are identifiable by specific behaviors and effects on an individual’s life.
Signs and Symptoms of Shopping Addiction
Like addictions of any kind, including behavioral and substance-related, there are several warning signs and symptoms of a problem surrounding one’s behaviors. There is an essential distinction between a shopping splurge and a shopping addiction, and the two should not be confused. A shopping splurge is occasional and only occurs rarely, such as around the holidays, around one’s birthday, or other special times in life. Sometimes, a shopping splurge may happen for no good reason, but it is not compulsive shopping that occurs on a daily or highly frequent basis and continues despite adverse consequences.
The following list of signs of shopping addiction will describe the behaviors of a shopping addict, and distinguish that from one who may engage in an occasional shopping splurge:
- Consistent Overspending: Many have gone shopping and spent more than initially intended once or twice, and this does not constitute a shopping addiction. However, when this occurs on a regular basis during shopping trips, there is a solid indication of a shopping addiction.
- Denial of Spending: When confronted about the amounts of money that have been spent shopping, if one lies about it, becomes angered by the question, or evades a response, this is a strong indication of a spending problem.
- Emotional Spending: Spending money when feeling sad, angry, depressed, anxious, or bored can be a sign of a shopping addiction. Just as with any other addiction, engaging in addictive and potentially destructive behaviors when emotional levels are not normal can be very dangerous.
- Preoccupation with Shopping: Continually thinking about shopping, planning the next shopping venture, and reliving a previous shopping experience are all examples of concern with the behavior. This can distract any person from his or her responsibilities at work, home, or in personal relationships, and is a clear indicator of a problem with a shopping addiction.
- Guilt and Shame About Shopping and Spending: After shopping and spending money, if feelings of guilt and shame always follow, they point to a shopping addiction.
- Broken Relationships: If shopping and spending are placing a strain on a personal relationship, whether it is with a significant other, friends, or family, there is likely a problem present. If shopping and spending continue despite these problems, shopping addiction is almost certainly afoot.
- Compulsive Spending: If there is a pattern of intention to purchase a shirt, but instead, the result is spending excessive money on that shirt in every color and variation, this is a symptom inherent to shopping addiction.
Many of these signs and symptoms of shopping addiction can be likened to those of drug, alcohol, and behavioral addictions in the related effects of each of the behaviors as mentioned above. With shopping addiction, there is typically a process through which an individual will go, that is much like that of an addicted person. According to the US National Center for Biotechnology Information, a branch of the National Institute of Health, this process involves four phases.
These four phases are:
- Anticipation: In this first phase, an individual develops preoccupations and urges with a particular item, and to shop and spend money in general.
- Preparation: This phase involves the individual preparing for his or her shopping expedition. This may include specific places to shop, what to wear, and what method(s) of payment to use.
- Shopping: The shopping phase is when the individual engages in shopping for a particular item, or for several unintended items. This is described as being very exhilarating and for some, sexual.
- Spending: Separate from the act of shopping is spending. This is when the financial transaction takes place and completes the experience. Once completed, there is often a feeling of disappointment with oneself, sometimes leading to depression, self-criticism, and anger.
Shopping Addiction Can be Helped
Understanding that like any potentially addictive behavior, shopping addiction is dangerous, and destroys lives and relationships when left untreated. It may be difficult to recognize a shopping addict initially, but time will show his or her true difficulties in controlling urges, obsessions, and compulsiveness associated with shopping and spending.
If you or a loved one are suffering from a shopping addiction, or compulsive shopping that is ruining personal relationships and finances, help is available to get life back on track and restore healthy and normal patterns survival.
At A Forever Recovery, we understand the difficulties one can experience with an out of control addiction. This is why we work with each to get to the cause of his or her problems and address them. This clears the path to recovery and significantly decreases the risks of relapse and the introduction of other destructive behavior. We work on an open-ended basis to ensure that each person has accomplished the goals necessary for healthy survival after leaving treatment. Shopping addiction and its underlying causes can be overcome. Call us now to find out how.