February 22, 2022

Shopping Addiction (What it is and How to Overcome It)

by Psych Times Staff

It’s no secret that Americans love shopping. People love to buy things, and retailers love to sell them. We’ve even created a whole day dedicated to it – Black Friday.

But what happens when our love for shopping turns into an addiction? For many people, this is a reality. Shopping addiction can have serious consequences on a person’s well-being, finances, and relationships. In this article, we will explore what shopping addiction is and provide tips on how to overcome it.

What is Shopping Addiction?

Shopping addiction – also referred to as compulsive shopping or “oniomania” – is a behavioral addiction that involves compulsive buying to feel good and avoid negative feelings, such as anxiety and depression.

In essence, shopping addiction is the compulsive act of buying things that are not needed, even if those items are inexpensive or if you have coupons. It is usually characterized by euphoria while shopping or shortly after, followed by feelings of guilt, remorse, and shame. The cycle then repeats itself.

Like other behavioral addictions, shopping addiction can become a preoccupation that leads to problems in other areas of one’s life. Shopping addiction is not just a problem for the person with the addiction. It also creates significant problems for loved ones who may feel financially responsible for debts incurred or even emotional pain when they see their loved one so unhappy.

Signs and Symptoms of Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction is a relatively new disorder. No official shopping addiction symptoms have been added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Psychologists use this manual to help them determine if someone has an actual mental health disorder.

However, there are some general signs and behaviors that may suggest someone has a shopping addiction:

  • They shop to make themselves feel good or to avoid negative emotions such as anxiety and depression.
  • They buy things they don’t need or can’t afford.
  • Their shopping creates problems in their personal life, such as financial difficulties or conflict with loved ones.
  • They are secretive about shopping, hiding purchases or receipts.
  • Their addictive pattern is driven by spending money – that is, window shopping does not constitute a shopping addiction.
  • Most of their items end up unused (hoarded), even as they plan their next shopping spree.
  • They shop alone and experience feelings of embarrassment around those who don’t share the same enthusiasm for spending.

Causes of Shopping Addiction

There is no one specific cause for shopping addiction. However, some factors contribute to consumerism as a whole that are risk factors for someone with a shopping addiction.

Stress

Like all addictions, shopping addiction is marked by behavior that has become a person’s go-to method for coping with stress. A person with a shopping addiction will continue to shop in excess despite its harmful impact on their lives. 

Because shopping addiction means using shopping to escape stress or other negative emotions, it sets itself apart from the occasional splurge or impulse buy.

Advertising/Marketing

The constant barrage of advertising can create a feeling of needing the latest and greatest thing. There are certain marketing tricks intended to trigger impulsive spending that targets the impulsive behaviors in those with a shopping addiction.

Not to mention the pressures of consumerism that send messages for everyone to support the economy.

Social media

The ease and accessibility of online shopping can contribute to shopping addiction. Many people turn to social media as part of their shopping experience in today’s society. This can include looking at pictures of items they want, shopping for clothes on Instagram, or shopping for home decor on Pinterest.

Common Threads Among “Shopaholics”

There are also a few factors that individuals with a shopping addiction have in common. Many shopaholics share some of the following traits and personality patterns:

Low Self-Esteem

People who struggle with significantly low self-esteem may use shopping as a way to make themselves feel better. These individuals are usually very kind, polite, and sympathetic towards others but feel alone and isolated. For these reasons, they turn to shopping to feel connected to those around them.

Materialism

Materialism is another common thread among shopaholics. Materialistic people tend to place a high value on possessions and status symbols. They often believe that owning certain things will make them happy or complete and win the approval of others.

Emotional Problems (Anxiety and Depression)

Shopping can make a person feel better when feeling anxious or depressed. It may help them avoid dealing with the real issues underlying their anxiety, stress, and depression. When shopping is no longer effective in relieving negative emotions such as these, shopping addiction becomes an unhealthy habit that only worsens those feelings.

Indulgence in Fantasy

Shopaholics tend to engage in fantasy more than other people and—as with other people with addictions—have a hard time resisting their impulses. This means their heightened imagination allows them to envision the positive outcome of buying an object. In this fantasy world, they can escape from the harsh or undesired realities of life.

The upside to this personality trait is that it can be highly beneficial for treatment for shopping addiction. This is particularly true for therapy methods such as relaxation training that incorporates guided imagery.

Poor Impulse Control

Impulse shopping is common for anyone who enjoys shopping. However, shopping addicts typically have significant trouble with impulse control and restraint. This may be part of the reason they resort to shopping to cope with stress and anxiety—when other methods of emotional regulation aren’t working.

Compulsive vs. Impulsive Shopping

While compulsive shopping is technically a shopping addiction, distinguishing between compulsive and impulsive shopping is important. Compulsive shopping is when someone feels the need to shop even though they don’t have the money to do so or feel guilty or anxious after buying something.

On the other hand, impulse shopping is when you buy something on a whim or with little thought. While shopping addiction and impulsive shopping aren’t necessarily the same, they are often closely related.

How to Cope with Shopping Addiction

Everybody shops, but if you feel that your shopping is compulsive and leading to negative consequences, there are ways to manage it:

Spend more time around loved who do not compulsively spend.

Explore other ways to spend time and feel fulfilled and good about yourself. Notice any unwelcome emotions when you turn to shopping, whether online or planning to go out. Turn to these alternative options for leisure time when this happens.

Get rid of your credit cards. Make sure you have some access to emergency and necessary money.

Treatment for Shopping Addiction

Whether online or in-person, therapy can be tremendously helpful in overcoming shopping addiction by:

  • Helping you understand the emotional roots and causes of your behavior.
  • Overcoming psychological support to help you restore any relationships that your addiction has negatively impacted.

Apart from therapy – such as cognitive-behavioral therapy – and self-help groups or books, financial counseling can also be helpful and sometimes necessary. If you have poor money management skills or your spending has led to significant debts, a financial consultant or advisor can help.

Financial consultants can help you explore ways to pay off debt, restrict access to spending, and even build up your savings – while keeping that account harder to access too.

Final Thoughts on Overcoming Shopping Addiction

Compulsive shoppers use shopping to deal with and escape from unpleasant thoughts, emotions, and moods, such as sadness, anxiety, boredom, and anger, as well as self-critical thoughts. But this “retail therapy” escape is only temporary, which means treating shopping addiction means getting to the root of this behavioral problem.

If you believe you are struggling with shopping addiction, reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional for support.


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