It's not just you. Over 18 million Americans are believed to have a shopping addiction—chronic, repetitive and compulsive shopping.

This disorder, also known as "compulsive buying disorder,"  "compulsive shopping disorder," and the technical term, "oniomania," will not only drain your bank account, it can ruin your career and permanently damage your relationships.

Shopping addiction counseling is one way to control your addiction. Before we look at counseling, we'll look at some signs of shopping addiction and why some people seem to mindlessly buy.

Who Are Shopaholics?
To give you a good idea of the prevalence of shopping addiction, here are some of the results on a "compulsive buying disorder" study by Stanford University's School of Medicine.

  • Men are just as likely as women to suffer from shopping addiction
  • One in 20 U.S. adults suffers from shopping addiction
  • Compared with other respondents, shopping addicts are younger and more likely to have incomes under $50,000
  • A shopping addict's credit cards were within a few hundred dollars of the credit limit

Shopping addicts are four times more likely "as other respondents to make only the minimum payment on credit card balances."

The Warning Signs
Want to know if you or your loved one is a shopaholic? If you identify with four or more of the following behaviors, says the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, you may have a shopping addiction.

  • Buying because you're angry, scared, or disappointed
  • Shopping is creating emotional stress in your life
  • Arguing with others about your shopping habits
  • Buying with a credit card what you wouldn't buy with cash
  • Feeling lost without your credit cards
  • Lying to friends and family about your purchases
  • Incessantly thinking about money
  • Feeling a "rush" after you purchase something
  • Feeling ashamed or guilty after shopping
  • Constantly juggling bills to accommodate your shopping

If you're a family member or friend of someone you suspect has a shopping addiction, look for these signs:

  • Closet full of clothes with the tags still attached
  • Defensive behavior when you question them about purchases
  • Collection agencies repeatedly calling your loved one's home
  • Finding duplicates of items you only need one of such as vacuum cleaners, coffee makers, etc.

Why We Are Shopaholics?
We're not sure of the exact causes of shopping addiction. Some evidence suggests that shopping addicts—like other addicts—are genetically prone to such compulsive behavior.

For others, shopping can actually produce a "high" similar to a drug high with the endorphins in the brain turned on during and immediately after shopping. Unfortunately, the high is fleeting. The "lows" (guilt, disappointment, etc.) appear after they get home and the new purchases no longer bring the same high. 

Many shopping addicts are simply depressed or lonely. They figure they can spend their way to happiness, and that by shopping, their problems will go away.

Some like to project an image of wealth in our "keeping up with the Jones" society. Another reason people compulsive shop is the need to reach an ideal of perfection, looking for the "next best thing" on the market whether it's a new outfit or a new oven.

Whatever their reasons, shopping addicts will eventually face problems they can't buy their way out of: ruined credit, wrecked careers, and damaged relationships. Before these eventualities hit, find help with shopping addiction counseling.  

Shopping Addiction Counseling
Enlist the help of a certified counselor or therapist who specializes in shopping addiction or other similar disorders. A counselor will pinpoint your problem and create a plan to end the behavior.

Together in counseling, you will identify the triggers, the feelings, thoughts, behaviors and consequences of your shopping addiction. Here's a sample of what you'll learn:

  • Learn about yourself and how your shopping impulses arise
  • How to recognize your shopping impulses
  • Coping strategies for dealing with these impulses
  • How to alleviate shame and guilt
  • Rebuild self-esteem
  • Build a strong support system
  • Rebuild damaged relationships

You are encouraged to bring a family member or friend to counseling sessions because this person will act as your support person in the future. One strategy is to use this support person as your "shopping buddy," the person you take with you every time you shop.

Credit Counseling
Shopaholics are usually in serious debt with multiple credit cards maxed or near their limits. Because their compulsive buying requires ever more money, their financial situation will only worsen over time.

Credit counseling companies can help you establish a workable budget and start a debt management plan (DMP), making payment arrangements with your creditors. 

To find reputable credit counseling agencies, check out the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Protection website

Summary

Shopping addiction affects millions of Americans. If you think you may be a compulsive shopper, start by contacting a professional counselor. Shopping addiction counseling is one of the most effective treatment options for shopaholics.