Spending and Shopping Addiction

Psychologists

Spending and Shopping AddictionSpending and Shopping Addiction

If you have a shopping and spending addiction you will compulsively engage in shopping and spend whatever is necessary to get what you desire.  In fact you may often buy things you do not need and may not even use.   While women are often thought of as having this problem more than men, it appears that men and women may be equally affected.

Understanding a Spending and Shopping Addiction

With the ever increasing access to credit cards, the number of people with a shopping and spending addiction is astounding.  While the exact number is not known, It is estimated that there are over 14-15,000,000 shopaholics in the U.S. and that the U.S. credit card debt is greater than six hundred billion dollars.

An individual who is suffering from a spending addiction pays whatever it takes to get whatever he/she wants. With the heavy use and ease of obtaining credit cards, an individual with this addiction believes that he/she can go on forever. There is a sense of control when spending money on everything that an individual desires. In many cases, the purchases are not necessarily useful or needed. This form of behavior can eventually lead to financial ruin and bankruptcy.

As with other addictions like gambling and sexual addictions or internet and eating addictions, there is a desire for control, for immediate gratification, and to feel free of stress and anxiety or depression and other problems. 

A spending addiction can be seen as a symptom that there are negative feelings you are trying to avoid. Indulging in shopping helps numb these feelings, at least for a while. Feelings of emptiness, low self-esteem, insecurity, boredom, loneliness, anger or the pursuit of ideal image can lead you to compulsive shopping and spending.  Shopping and spending temporarily diminishes these negative feelings, but every time you try to stop the addictive pattern of compulsive spending, you may find you have to deal with distressing feelings again.  

Addictive behavior commonly provides a temporary level of satisfaction and the illusion of being in control.  However, as with the other addictive behaviors, a shopping and spending addict overlooks, ignores, or rationalizes the long-term and self-destructive implications of the addictive behavior.

If you are a spending addict, one or two out-of-control shopping binges do not bring about enough satisfaction. You will find yourself repeatedly in shopping binges despite the negative consequences.  Typically, you will buy items you do not really need and may never use. You may hide or destroy price tags and receipts and lie about how much you have spent.

Several of the behaviors and feelings typically associated with addictive shopping and spending include:

  • Having a sense of euphoria when spending money

  • Commonly spending more than you can afford

  • Spending unusual amounts of time and/or money buying on the Internet, in catalogues, or on shopping channels

  • Frequently spending time shopping that could be spent with family, friends or on work

  • Feeling guilty, ashamed, embarrassed or confused after shopping or spending

  • Hiding purchases and receipts and lying about purchases

  • Feeling lost without credit cards or a check book

  • Feeling on edge, agitated, or irritable when you have not been able to shop

What’s Behind Spending Addiction?

Spending addiction is often a symptom that there are negative feelings you are trying to avoid. Indulging yourself in shopping helps numb these troubling feelings, at least for a while. Every time you try to stop the pattern of compulsive spending, you may find you have to deal with distressing feelings and the panic and fear that results. 

Research has shown that many compulsive shoppers and spenders also suffer from depression and other mood disorders, substance abuse, or eating disorders. As with any addiction, the person becomes dependent on the behavior to relieve negative feelings that cause them distress and discomfort.

There are many social and cultural factors that tend to increase the addictive potential of shopping and spending. The easy availability of credit and the material focus of society in general encourage people to accumulate possessions now and worry about financial responsibility later.  Society places a strong emphasis on one's outer appearance and many media personalities promote spending money to achieve a certain look that will bring about happiness. In addition, the accessibility of purchasing has been made easier with the arrival of online shopping and television programs devoted to buying goods 24 hours a day.

The shopping and spending activity itself is associated with a feeling of happiness and power which is immediately gratifying. When you are buying, charging, ordering, you do feel better for a few minutes, but, it usually does not last long.  The after effects of remorse and guilt drive the spender back to purchase again to be able to achieve that brief but intense emotional high.

Problems Related to Compulsive Shopping and Spending

Compulsive shopping or spending may result in interpersonal, occupational, family and financial problems in one's life. In many ways the consequences of this behavior are similar to that of any other addiction.

Impairment in relationships may occur as a result of excessive spending and efforts to cover up debt or purchases. Persons who engage in compulsive shopping or spending may become pre-occupied with that behavior and spend less and less time with important people in their lives. They may experience anxiety or depression as a result of the spending or shopping which may interfere with work or school performance.

Financial problems may occur if money is borrowed or there is excessive use of credit to make purchases. Often the extent of the financial damage is discovered only after the shopper or spender has accumulated a large debt that necessitates a drastic change in lifestyle to resolve.

Treatment of Spending and Shopping Addiction

Shopping and spending addictive behavior is treatable. If you truly want to stop your addictive shopping and spending habits there are treatment methods that can help you to eliminate negative behaviors and develop new patterns of behavior.

I have found that to overcome an addiction like spending and shopping you must accept that you have a problem.  Next you have to conclude that you want to change your behavior and overcome the problem.  Overcoming an addiction is basically a decision that you must make on your own and cannot effectively be made for you by a parent, a spouse, lover, or a friend.

In  working with my clients, I have found that insight alone will not stop addictive behavior. The triggers, the feelings, the dysfunctional thoughts, the behaviors, the consequences of the behavior, as well as the meaning of the compulsive buying, all need to be explored.  Then I work with my clients to develop appropriate behavior patterns to replace the unhealthy addictive patterns.

As with most other addictive and impulse control problems, there is a wide range of effective treatment options including traditional psychotherapy, reality therapy, cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. Group therapy and self-help programs such as Debtors Anonymous have also been shown to be effective.  

Couples therapy for compulsive buying can be an extremely important treatment modality since many couples act as a financial unit and generally blend income as well as spending. Money issues are an intrinsic part of marriage and are often a source of friction that can invade other aspects of the relationship.

Additional Information

For more information about a spending addiction and/or other addiction, please click on the linked websites listed below.

 Addictionrecov: spending addiction
 Recoveries Anonymous: a Twelve Step program

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Spending and Shopping AddictionSpending and Shopping Addiction