Shopping Addiction

The financial consequences of addiction | Shopping addiction and emotions | Admissions FAQs

The compulsion to spend money, regardless of need or financial means

Shopping addiction is a behavioural addiction in which a person compulsively buys things in order to feel good and avoid negative feelings like stress, loneliness, and anxiety.

Much like other behavioural addictions, an addiction to shopping can lead to other problems in your life. Most often, people who are addicted to shopping struggle with debt and other financial problems as a result of their uncontrollable spending.

While a shopping addiction can be difficult to detect, there are key differences between non-addicted shopping and compulsive buying habits. Where people without a shopping addiction purchase things because they need them or find value in them, those with addictive behaviours shop to improve their mood, cope with stress, or temporarily boost their self-esteem.

Yet ultimately, people with compulsive buying behaviours usually spend more time and money on shopping than they can afford to. As a result of their overspending, many face financial difficulties that can exacerbate stressful circumstances. This pushes them further into the addictive cycle as they continue to purchase things to escape from these uncomfortable feelings.

Understanding Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction can be hard to assess because unlike using substances, shopping is something that virtually everyone needs to do as a part of their day-to-day life. Whether it’s picking up groceries at the store or filling up an online cart with new clothes, we all consume goods and services that we need to shop and pay for.

What sets an addiction apart from regular shopping is whether or not the behaviour is compulsive. People with a shopping addiction find it hard or even impossible to stop making purchases. They often turn to buying things to relieve stress or other hard-to-manage emotions, even if it’s negatively impacting their finances or personal life.

Like many other types of behavioural addictions, shopping addiction is a controversial and contested subject. There are currently only two types of behavioural addiction recognised in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the definitive diagnostic tool published by the American Psychiatric Association: gambling and gaming. However, many treatment providers still believe there are other activities that can become compulsive and result in addictive behaviours, including shopping.

Compulsive Shopping vs Impulsive Shopping

While these two terms are often used interchangeably, there is an important difference between them. It all lies in the reason that causes someone to make a purchase.

Impulse buying is done spontaneously, at the spur of the moment. For example, you might see an item in a shop window and suddenly decide you’d like to have it, so you enter the store and purchase it. This unplanned action is impulsive but not necessarily compulsive.

Compulsive shopping is often pre-planned and executed with intention. People with a shopping addiction will usually plan their shopping sprees, finding gratification in the preparation process. Compulsive shopping also usually feels out of your control: where making an impulse purchase is usually exciting and joyful, compulsive shoppers typically feel a sense of shame and disappointment soon after their shopping spree.

It should be noted that people with a shopping addiction may engage in both compulsive and impulsive shopping, though the compulsive form is inherently part of a shopping addiction.

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What Causes Shopping Addiction?

Compulsive buying behaviour starts in the brain and builds over time, usually beginning when someone shops in order to assuage negative feelings. When they buy something as a distraction from pain or discomfort, their brain receives an increase in dopamine, the neurotransmitter that makes people feel pleasure and joy.

In this way, shopping and other behavioural addictions can hijack your brain’s reward system over time. Every time you buy something, your brain lights up at the purchase, and in turn, strengthens the neural connection between going shopping and feeling rewarded.

The more someone continues to compulsively shop to deal with low moods, the more this cycle is reinforced. Someone with a shopping addiction experiences a rush of euphoria that’s similar to the way people addicted to drugs feel when they use it. While anyone can become addicted to shopping, some studies show that women are more likely to develop addictive shopping behaviours.

There are other factors still that may play a role in someone becoming addicted to shopping, and what kind of shopping they compulsively partake in. While some are bargain hunters who purchase items just because they’re on sale, others shop compulsively to show off wealth and high-ticket items.

People usually develop a behavioural addiction like shopping as a way to cope with other factors in their life, such as:

To relieve stress or boredom

An escape from abuse or trauma

A relief from grief or loneliness

Substituting for another addiction (cross-addiction)

Signs of Shopping Addiction

It can be difficult to tell if you or someone else has a shopping addiction because the need to buy things is so embedded in daily life. However, many compulsive shoppers struggle with debt or continue to make unnecessary purchases even when they’re struggling financially. Other signs may include:

  • Shopping to cope with stress or other emotions
  • Obsessing over shopping, planning frequent shopping sprees, or spending hours shopping online
  • Continuously hitting your credit limit or opening new lines of credit without paying off old balances
  • Compulsively buying things you don’t need
  • Feeling a deep sense of regret or remorse after a spree but continuing to shop anyway
  • Accruing debt from shopping that you’re unable to pay off
  • Feeling incapable of curbing or stopping your shopping habits

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While many people think of drugs or alcohol when they think of addiction, compulsive shopping is a serious issue that can have negative consequences on your emotional, mental, and financial well-being.

At Castle Craig, we offer treatment for a variety of behavioural addictions, including shopping addiction. Our expert staff of addiction specialists works with you to create a personalised treatment programme, so you can create new patterns and live your life free of the compulsion to shop. As part of your custom treatment plan, you’ll have access to a variety of specialised therapies, such as:

With professional guidance and support, it is possible to heal damaged family relationships, repair your physical and mental health and find freedom from addiction. Contact us today for more information on our treatment options.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is shopping addiction a mental illness?

Compulsive shopping is widely recognised as a mental health disorder. However, it remains uncategorised into any sort of classification system. It’s not recognised by the DSM-5, the foremost text on mental health diagnoses.

What is the root cause of a shopping addiction?

While everyone’s addiction story is different, compulsive shopping behaviour typically begins as a way to cope with stress or other difficult emotions. Some people may develop an addiction to shopping as a way to deal with grief, while others may do it to ease feelings of anxiety. Or, some people become addicted to shopping as a replacement for another form of addiction, like alcohol or gambling.

How do you treat a shopping addiction?

An addiction to shopping is best treated like other behavioural addictions: through evidence-based care that helps you to examine the root causes of the problem so you can create new habits around spending, shopping, and processing emotions.

At Castle Craig, we have over 30 years of experience in helping people to recover from their struggles with addictions, including shopping. We offer a professional, structured treatment programme for behavioural addictions to help you leave the cycle of addiction behind and enter into a new, recovered life. Contact us today to learn more.

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