Have you ever had a “shopping therapy” day? You know, you were feeling down about something so you thought buying a new outfit would perk you up. A shopping therapy day every so often is fine. It’s when your shopping becomes chronic and repetitive that it becomes a problem known as shopping addiction or compulsive shopping.

Shopping addiction is a very real addictive behavior with characteristics similar to heavy drinking, overeating and other addictions. Societal pressures have largely made shopping addiction inevitable for many.

Over the last decade, easy credit, 24-hour internet shopping, and a society that measures success by one’s possessions have all contributed to compulsive shopping.

Before we look at shopping addiction treatment, we’ll look at how to recognize an addiction and why it may be happening.

Warning Signs of Shopping Addiction
According to the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, if you identify with four or more of the following behaviors, you may have a shopping problem:

  • Buying as a result of feeling scared, angry or disappointed
  • Shopping creating emotional stress in your life
  • Arguing with others about your shopping habits
  • Feeling lost without your credit cards
  • Lying to friends and family about your purchases
  • Constantly thinking about money
  • Feeling a “rush” after you purchase something
  • Feeling ashamed or guilty after shopping
  • The constant need to juggle bills (“robbing Peter to pay Paul”) to accommodate 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 Do People Compulsive Shop?
Medical professionals aren’t sure of the exact causes of shopping addiction. Some evidence suggests that certain individuals are “pre-wired” (genetically) for addictive behavior.

For others, shopping can actually produce a “high” similar to a drug high. The endorphins in the brain are turned on while shopping and immediately after. But like drugs users, shopaholics invariably experience “lows”—in this case, guilt, disappointment, etc.--after they get home.

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.

Shopping Addiction Treatment
Many people with addictions (e.g. drugs, alcohol, shopping) have what’s called a dual diagnosis meaning that in addition to their addiction, they also have a mental disorder. These disorders can include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and personality disorders.

People with dual diagnosis should be treated simultaneously for both conditions. If not, the chances for success are greatly diminished. A psychiatrist can diagnose these mental disorders and prescribe antidepressants and mood stabilizers.

Individual therapy for shopaholics is similar to that for other addicts. One approach is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which seeks to change your unproductive thought patterns. This can include changing the way you feel about money and shopping; and be aware of ways thoughts can influence your behavior.

Debtors Anonymous (DA) is a 12-step program with the goal of being abstinent from any new debt. DA is free and member-run. Share your experiences with others in a supportive environment.

Couples Therapy can be useful especially if individual treatment is not helpful. Because a married couple usually combines their incomes and share shopping responsibility, it’s important to address a shopping addiction as a unit.

For those that want self-help, try online support communities such as Yahoo’s shoppingaddictsonly  has resources for addicts including forums, articles and addiction links. 

Read To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop by April Benson to get strategies on how to kick the shopping addiction.

Credit Counseling
If you’ve been racking up credit cards, you’ll likely need credit counseling if for nothing else to find a way to manage your debts effectively. These companies can also put you on 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

Tips to Avoid Out-of-Control Spending

  • Always pay by cash, debit card or check
  • Don’t shop on the internet
  • Make a shopping list and stick to it
  • Avoid places like Costco and Sam’s Club. If you do need to shop there, buy only what you can carry. No carts.
  • Don’t watch shopping channels
  • If you get the shopping urge, go out for a walk instead
  • Do not shop alone. You’ll be less likely to spend with a partner.

This web page by an Indiana University professor has a number of web links for shopping addiction and shopping addiction treatment.
The temptation to buy in our society will only increase in the future with technology and the availability of so many products. If you are a compulsive shopper, there are many ways to get help. Shopping addiction treatment can take many forms, but first you have to recognize your problem. For a shopping addiction treatment center near you, search recoverycorps.org’s database.