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Shopping Addiction

Shopping Addiction (oniomania), is the term used to describe a condition of unmanageability in life due to compulsive shopping.  With this addiction, shopping behavior includes inappropriate purchasing, excessive spending and out of control behaviors. It is characterized by impulsiveness, seeking immediate gratification, and a lack of control over one’s choices. Shopping addiction can wreak havoc on finances, the life of the addict, and the entire family system. Addicts experience a “high” from the immediate gratification inherent to shopping. Endorphins and dopamine, both naturally occurring chemicals at opiate receptor sites in the brain, are released on when the addict shops. The endorphins release provides the shopper feelings of euphoria and relaxation when making a purchase, which reinforces the addictive behavior.  Shopping addiction is arguably one of the most socially reinforced of all behavioral addictions, affecting as much as 6% of the population.

Shopping Addiction – A Real Disorder

There are many symptoms of a Shopping Addiction. An addict will spend over budget and get into deep financial trouble as you do not recognize the boundaries of your budget. You will often make compulsive buys. When shopping for a new dress, you may come out with ten. This is a chronic problem. Everyone goes overboard at one time or another, but an addict is different. This behavior is continuous which leads to the associated problems. An addict will also try to hide the problem and will keep purchases from friends and family members.

Often this type of buying leads to a vicious cycle. The addict will go out and make a large number of purchases. They will then return the purchases due to feelings of guilt. Once these items have been returned, the addict may feel the need to go shopping again, and the cycle continues. With this type of shopping, debt might not be an issue as the items are returned. Just because there is no debt does not mean that there is not a problem.

A shopping addiction leads to impaired relationships. Not only does time spent shopping take time away from loved ones, but the addict will also often feel isolated due to their preoccupation with the behavior. They will hide debt with deception which will lead to other problems within the relationship. Shopping takes control of the addict rather than the other way around, and this affects every aspect of the person’s life.

Many other symptoms are seen with a shopping addiction. The addict may shop when angry, anxious, lonely or depressed. Shopping is done to lessen these feelings rather than for an actual need. You will get a rush or feeling of euphoria when you spend money. After shopping though, you will often feel shame, embarrassment, and guilt. You may begin to argue about your shopping habits or lie about how much you have spent. Many addicts obsess over money and juggle money to accommodate this out of control spending. If only one or two of these symptoms describe you, most likely you are not an addict. When you exhibit four or more on a regular basis, most likely you have a shopping addiction and will need treatment. This comes in many forms, and you will need to find a program that works for you.

Treatment for a shopping addiction is multi-faceted. First, underlying medical conditions will need to be examined. This may include anxiety disorders or depression. If you suspect these may be contributing to your uncontrollable spending, it is best to seek medical help. Only a doctor can determine what is at play here and how to treat it. Prescriptions medications may be needed, but they will only be one part of your treatment plan. An addict has been shopping for some time as most do not admit they have a problem until it is a serious one. Behaviors learned over this time will not go away overnight, so they need to be also addressed.

Behavioral therapy and support groups can be very helpful when changing how and when you shop. Once you have admitted a problem (which is often the hardest step), you must change how you shop. First, the addict will need to switch to cash only. When entering a store, you cannot take your checkbook or credit cards. It is too tempting to go overboard, especially knowing you will get the rush when buying. Also, you will no longer be able to shop by yourself. This does not mean shopping with another addict who is out of control though and hasn’t admitted their problem. You will need to choose wisely who you shop with.

This type of therapy will also look at your impulses and how to recognize them when they rear their ugly head. You will learn to tolerate these impulses without acting on them. Therapy will work to help you separate yourself from your possessions and find healthier ways to meet your emotional needs. You will reclaim power and self-esteem through this process and feel better all around as a result.

Group or couples therapy may also be a part of your treatment. Relationships are often damaged or destroyed during the process and will need to be rebuilt. This is a very important part of therapy as you will need support as you work through the process. A shopping addiction can be as devastating as Drug abuse to your loved ones. You have hurt them in many ways and had to work to regain their trust and build the relationship up again. This will take time and effort on your part but will be worth it in the long run.

Debt counseling will often need to be a part of the treatment plan also. Many addicts destroy their finances while funding their addictions. This will involve some things. Many believe that by returning unused items to a store that the financial situation will improve. It is much more than that. The addict will have to live within a budget and realize that once the money is gone, it is gone. Credit cards and checkbooks may have to be eliminated, so the temptation is reduced. Past bills will have to be paid and can run into the thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. This can be a difficult concept as not only will the shopping addict be losing their main high; the addict may also have to do without other things. Budgets will have to be significantly trimmed to pay these bills down, and the family will have to adjust. This is not an easy process, but well worth it. Once you break this addiction, you will feel better about yourself and others will feel better about you.