Shopping Addiction: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment
Compulsive shopping addiction can be a stand-alone addiction in its own right. It can also be a co-occurring condition that can manifest alongside a substance use disorder or another mental health illness.
During the Covid pandemic, many of us turned to online shopping. Making purchases has never been easier, or quicker. However, when is buying clothes, books, gadgets or whatever it may be, a real problem?
Read on to find out about the signs and symptoms of shopping/spending addiction and what to do if you think you have developed a problem that has gotten out of control.
It’s not as simple as spending money you haven't got
Anyone, from any background, can develop an addiction to shopping or spending, regardless of their education or occupation. Whether a person has a lot of money or lives on the bread line, addiction is a mental health condition that can affect anyone.
Some people who are wealthy may never feel the financial pinch of a shopping addiction, yet it will still negatively impact other areas of their life. Regardless of how much they spend, and how many properties they acquire, they will never feel truly satisfied, it will never be enough.
Others with a shopping addiction may spend money they don't have, resorting to taking out financial loans and finding themselves thousands of pounds in debt.
Whether someone can afford to excessively shop or not really isn't the main issue here. It’s the addictive behaviours, the loss of control and the fleeting high that a person gains from compulsive shopping.
Of course, if a person is spending beyond their own financial means, they are likely to feel the consequences of a shopping addiction much sooner than someone who doesn't have financial limitations. However, the point is, that this particular consequence doesn't affect everyone. It can stop someone from realising they have an addiction if money isn't an issue.
How does someone get addicted to shopping?
A person who shops compulsively will feel a euphoric high when they make a purchase. They may also feel excited at the anticipation of receiving a delivery or taking a purchased item home. Much like a gambling addiction or sex addiction, the brain's chemistry starts to change when the decision to engage has been made.
Making a purchase, a compulsive shopper's brain will release an influx of feel-good chemicals, including dopamine. The bigger the purchase, the bigger the high. It is this high that compels a compulsive shopper to buy more and more. It relieves them of the way they feel, it fills an emotional void. They may acquire items they don't need or even really want, just to feel temporarily euphoric.
In any addiction, a person develops tolerance. This means that they will need to make more purchases or spend more money, taking bigger risks, just to satisfy the urge. Shopping and spending addiction is a progressive illness. As such, over any given period of time, it gets worse. It gets more painful and the consequences get more serious.
Types of Shopping Addiction
Compulsive Buying Disorder (shopping addiction) is a behavioural disorder that is characterised by excessive thoughts of shopping and purchases that lead to distress or impairment in function.
Signs you suffer from a shopping addiction or CBD:
- Shopping to relieve emotional distress
- Are always shopping for the perfect item - Trophy shoppers
- Want to be perceived as a big spender and love expensive items
- Compulsively shop for bargains, even when you don't need the items
- Get caught in a vicious cycle of binge buying and returning (referred to as bulimic shoppers)
- You are a collector, who doesn’t feel complete unless you have one item in every colour and a complete set
- Feeling irritable, restless and distressed if you are unable to engage in shopping
- Trying to stop your shopping addiction, but keep relapsing
Shopping addiction can manifest in all types of shopping, the common thread being a compulsion and lack of control when it comes to buying items. This compulsion will be so strong in a compulsive shopper that they will risk almost anything, to make that purchase.
The signs of shopping addiction - Are you a shopaholic?
If you answer yes to two or more of the following criteria for shopping addiction, you may suffer from a compulsive buying disorder. Thankfully, there is help available. I’ll get on to that next.
- Do you shop when you feel emotional turmoil, to change the way you feel?
- Has overspending created difficulties in your life and personal relationships?
- Do you feel compelled to buy items?
- Do your loved ones feel you regularly overspend or buy things you don't need?
- After shopping, do you feel like you have just finished doing something risky or dangerous?
- Do you feel your shopping has gotten out of control?
- After shopping, do you frequently feel guilty, anxious, remorseful or ashamed?
- Do you often buy items that you never end up using or wearing?
- When shopping, do you feel euphoric or anxious?
- Do you think about shopping a lot of the time?
- Do you try to conceal evidence of purchasing items from others, or lie about the cost?
- If you are unable to shop do you feel depressed, resentful, irritable and dissatisfied with life?
- When you try to reduce or stop shopping, do you relapse?
The more questions you answer yes to, the more severe your shopping addiction will be and the more likely you will need professional help to get better.
Help and Treatment for Shopaholics
Help and treatment options for an addiction to shopping can come in a number of forms. Realistically, addiction to shopping is still pretty misunderstood. It is also an addiction that has not been extensively researched.
What we do know is that all behavioural addictions respond to the same evidence-based methods of treatment.
Treatment for a shopping addiction may include:
- Attending 12-step fellowships such as Spenders Anonymous
- Complete abstinence from the form of shopping you are addicted to
- Attending a rehabilitation treatment centre for an intensive therapy programme
- Undergoing cognitive behavioural therapy with a qualified addiction counsellor
- Seeking help from mutual aid groups such as SMART recovery
As with any addiction, whether it is to a substance or a behaviour, it is important to get to the root causes of the condition. Whatever is driving your compulsion to shop will need to be unearthed, addressed and healed. Additionally, new coping strategies for dealing with emotions will need to be learned and implemented.
Support groups and recovery communities are often extremely helpful, even if they are not specifically aimed at compulsive shopping. The principles they practice and the support they offer are often conducive to a healthy and well-rounded recovery.
How Recoverlution can help
Our unique platform is dedicated to addiction recovery. Regardless of the addiction you suffer from you are welcome here. We offer a safe and judgment-free zone and online support for those affected by a shopping addiction. We also offer a number of helpful recovery tools and access to professional-led well-being classes, as well as online zoom recovery meetings.
Trying to overcome any addiction can feel like an incredibly lonely place, yet it doesn't need to be. Start your recovery journey today by learning more about addiction. And, more importantly, proven ways in which you can get your recovery firmly on the right track.
Q&A’s on shopping and spending addiction
Is shopping addiction a medically recognised mental health illness?
Currently, shopping addiction is not medically recognised as a mental health disorder. However, the symptoms of shopping addiction are concurrent with other compulsive behavioural disorders including sex addiction, gambling addiction and food addiction. Sex addiction was only recently recognised as a compulsive behavioural mental health disorder, so it may well be that shopping addiction will be classed the same in future.
What causes shopping/spending addiction?
The reasons behind why someone develops an addiction to shopping or spending are often complex.
Causes of shopping addiction can include:
- Being raised in a household where money had no value or was used inappropriately
- Childhood trauma, conditioning and abandonment
- Addiction and mental health disorders in the family
- Environmental factors, such as bullying, emotional or physical abuse
- Suffering from another mental health illness or previous addiction issues
In order to overcome shopping addiction, therapeutic help is recommended to identify the causes and heal them.
How do I stop an addiction to shopping?
Firstly, it is important that you recognise that you have a problem with shopping that is beyond your mental control. In any addiction, complete abstinence is recommended, this may mean blocking your access to online shopping sites and money for a period of time. During this time, you should seek treatment, therapy and support from like-minded others.
- Spenders Anonymous: http://www.spenders.org
- 5 patterns of compulsive buying: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/science-choice/201806/5-patterns-compulsive-buying
- Compulsive Buying Behaviour: Clinical Comparison with Other Behavioural Addictions - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4908125/
- Why online shopping makes you so happy: https://time.com/6200717/online-shopping-psychology-explained/
- Understanding Compulsive Shopping Disorder: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-compulsive-shopping-disorder-2510592