Understanding and Overcoming Shopping Addiction

shopping addiction

For most people, shopping is a harmless activity. Every week, there are certain things we need to buy for ourselves and our families. Occasionally, we’ll also treat ourselves to something special—new clothing, a new gadget, or something else we’re interested in. But treating yourself every once in a while can turn into a shopping addiction if you start spending impulsively.

What is a shopping addiction?

A shopping addiction develops when someone shops and buys compulsively, regardless of their financial situation. In many cases, shopping addicts feel like they can’t control their behavior. Shopping addictions can develop over time, or immediately, depending on the person.

Shopping addictions have not always been taken seriously. Pop culture often portrays wealthy women as “shopaholics,” who are more concerned about being fashionable than being thrifty. In reality, shopping addictions are a real problem, and they affect more people than you think.

Research around shopping addiction is limited, but data shows that about 18 million adults in the United States suffer from a shopping addiction. Both men and women are susceptible to shopping addiction, which is most common in people between the ages of 18 and 30.

Although the American Psychiatric Association doesn’t officially recognize shopping addiction as a diagnosable condition, shopping addictions usually develop alongside mental health disorders, like depression and anxiety.

What types of shopping addictions are there?

Shopping addicts can be addicted to buying anything, including clothing, jewelry, makeup, cars or home decor. According to Shopaholics Anonymous, there are several different types of addicts, based on the reasons that fuel their addiction. Some common examples are:

  • Compulsive shopaholics who shop to reduce emotional distress
  • People who buy expensive items to be seen as wealthier than they are
  • Shoppers who get caught in the cycle of buying and returning
  • Collectors who are constantly searching for missing items
  • Bargain hunters who will buy anything that’s on sale
  • People in search of the perfect item in every category

Everyone has their own reasons for developing a shopping addiction. Not to mention, some people identify as more than one type of shopping addict. Once someone develops a shopping addiction, it can be difficult to break the cycle.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

What are the signs and symptoms of a shopping addiction?

A shopping addiction can be hard to identify, especially if the person has always had an affinity for shopping. Additionally, many shopping addicts keep their addiction to themselves. It’s common for shopping addicts to embody someone wealthy and successful, who has plenty of money to spend on whatever they want. But in reality, they’re in debt because of their addiction. Here are some of the common signs that someone is addicted to shopping:

  • Using shopping to cope with stress
  • Buying things on a daily or weekly basis
  • Maxing out credit cards
  • Buying unnecessary things
  • Feeling excited or euphoric after making a purchase
  • Being unable to pay off debt, or have poor money management skills

However, it’s important to be able to distinguish between someone who is a true shopping addict, from someone who just genuinely enjoys shopping. It’s possible for people to love shopping and do it often without having an addiction. In fact, many people say that shopping is an effective way to relax and escape from everyday stresses. 

Shopping addicts usually land themselves in serious trouble when their habits begin to affect their finances. It’s not uncommon for a shopping addict to hide their credit card bills, shopping bags or receipts from recent purchases. Struggling financially, or being sneaky about money, are usually telling signs that a person has an addiction.

Why do people develop a shopping addiction?

Most people are probably familiar with the concept of “retail therapy,” which is where shopping addiction comes into play.  For people who suffer from mental health disorders, like depression and anxiety, shopping can be a way to relieve their stress or worries. It allows them to disconnect from their problems and spend time looking for new things that will enhance their life in some way.

There are a number of reasons why someone would develop a shopping addiction. It could be a way to cope with grief, loss, anger, low-esteem or even boredom. Some people might shop compulsively to feel like they fit in, so they always have the latest items. Others might shop as a way to reward themselves for giving back, or reaching their goals. 

In some ways, a shopping addiction is very similar to a substance abuse addiction. When a shopping addict makes a purchase, they get the same rush as someone who uses drugs to get high. Their brain releases feel-good chemicals, like endorphins and dopamine, which can be addictive over time. Eventually, the brain starts associating shopping with extreme pleasure, and fuels a continuous cycle of addiction.

untreated stress

Getting treatment for a shopping addiction

Shopping addictions can be detrimental in a number of ways, both mentally and financially. Shopping addicts may also ruin important relationships in their lives. Even though the mental health community doesn’t technically recognize shopping addiction as a disorder, there are treatments available. 

Most shopping addicts respond well to traditional behavioral and talk therapy. Psychotherapy can help a shopping addict identify their triggers and learn to control their buying impulses. There are also groups like Shopaholics Anonymous, which offer a traditional 12-step program for recovery.

It’s also important to keep in mind that shopping addictions often stem from unresolved mental health issues. If that’s the case, a mental health professional can work with them to address those issues and prescribe medication.

If you, or someone in your life is struggling with shopping addiction, our team at Mission Harbor can help. We offer treatment for behavioral addictions, as well as mental health disorders for both adults and adolescents. Our clinicians and therapists create a customized plan for every client that is designed to optimize their recovery.

Learn more about the therapies we offer at our Santa Barbara outpatient center.

The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.

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