Written by: Cally Worden
Shopping for most of us is a fun experience; online or on the High Street, it can be a delightful way to while away a few hours, and liberate some of the hard-earned cash from your bank account in exchange for bags and boxes of new clothes, household gems or gadgets – whatever floats your boat. But for some people, shopping becomes much more than a pastime, and morphs into a destructive, shopping ¬†addiction that can have serious detrimental effects on their lives.
What is a Shopping Addiction?
An individual is addicted to shopping when they spend inappropriate and excessive amounts on items in a manner that is out of control. We all fall foul of the odd impulse buy, but for a shopping addict the act of buying items becomes an impulse in itself, resulting in uncontrolled purchasing of things that are often neither needed, nor wanted.
Why is Shopping so Addictive?
No one really knows what causes people to behave in an addictive manner. Scientific research suggests that 10-15% of people may have a natural predisposition to this type of behaviour, but the statistics are vague. What IS known, is that once an addict experiences a certain high from their behaviour, it is common for them to return again and again to the activity that delivers that sensation.
We all experience a buzz from time to time when we snag an item we’ve had our eye on for a while, or manage to grab a bargain before anyone else does. This buzz is generated by the release of endorphins and dopamine, the feel-good hormones, in our brains. For some individuals the need to recreate this buzz is overwhelming, so they repeat the activity to experience the buzz again. And again.
How to Spot a Shopping Addict
Knowing you are erring towards dangerous levels of shopping yourself, or observing the behaviour in a friend or family member, is the first step towards getting help. Here are some signs to look out for:
- Shopaholics spend beyond their means – getting into debt, and racking-up credit
- When buying becomes compulsive – the person wants one T-shirt, and leaves the shop with ten
- Chronic behaviour – if uncontrolled shopping is year-round, and not limited to the odd spree at Christmas, or perhaps during the sales
- Covert behaviour – just as an alcoholic will hide bottles, shopaholics will conceal purchases from their partners and friends
- Repeat behaviour – guilt may inspire a shopping addict to return goods they have bought, but the addiction remains and they may later return and buy the very same items again
- Relationships become affected – deception and shame can lead to isolation, and many addicts withdraw from social contact as a way of hiding their problem
As with any addiction, it is the underlying problem that has caused the addict to adopt the behaviour that must be addressed before the problem can be resolved. Getting the person to accept they have¬† an issue is the first hurdle. Once this has been achieved there are several strategies that can help:
- Ditching credit cards, cheque books and overdrafts
- Never shopping alone – addicts are more likely to revert to addictive behaviour when left to their own devices
- Filling time with other activities that make the addict feel good – effectively replacing the shopping buzz with a more healthy version
- Counselling and therapy to identify and address why the tendency to indulge the shopping addiction exists in the first place
- Anti-depressants may be appropriate in certain cases, under supervision of a medical professional
- Joining a group such as Debtors Anonymous, which has a 12-step programme that leads to recovery for many