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Whether it’s the latest gadget, a chic new piece of clothing or even food, we’ve all felt the urge to splurge now and again.
This comes as little surprise because we are constantly being bombarded with ads both online and in the real world to reinforce this compulsion. Indulging our inner shopaholic isn’t necessarily a bad thing when done in moderation. But when our urge to shop becomes uncontrollable and when we are constantly spending beyond our means on things that we don’t need, such an addiction can be just as damaging as gambling and alcoholism. Fortunately there are ways to break free from shopping addiction. When our own efforts fall short, we may need the intervention of friends and family to kick our compulsion to shop.
What Is Shopping Addiction?
Indiana University defines shopping addiction, or compulsive shopping, as an uncontrollable need to overspend in order to compensate for feelings of depression or anxiety, or to boost self-esteem. Shopaholics generally tend to spend well beyond their means. Often the urge to shop is a means of coping with other issues or a means of relieving stress. In that sense, shopping addiction shares has some things in common with alcoholism, compulsive gambling and overeating.
The urge to shop is usually strongest during moments of depression, sadness or anger.
Shopping addiction has also been associated with the holidays that reinforce compulsive shopping such as during the Christmas rush in December. Shopaholics initially feel a “high” or “rush” from the act of shopping. However, any positive feelings derived from gratifying their compulsion are fleeting. In the aftermath, shopaholics often contend with feelings of guilt and generally feeling bad about succumbing to their addiction and the financial strain resulting from their lapse in impulse control.
Shopaholics may sometimes experience “blackouts” and have no recollection of the things they bought during their shopping binges. Shopaholics may feel the compulsion to buy certain items such as jewelry, household items, and even big-ticket items such as high-end electronic devices, cars or real estate. However, there are also shopaholics that are not as particular and will buy anything. So it is very important to understand the nature of the shopping addiction. Determining the factors that initiate the impulse to buy is helpful in coming up with an effective way of treating the addiction.
Shopaholics differ from people who indulge in normal shopping behavior in a number of ways. But here are some signs to watch out for:
The act of shopping causes feelings of euphoria, or a “high.”
The urge to buy is overwhelming, and must be gratified instantly.
Items bought during shopping sprees are mostly unnecessary.
Shopaholics often go shopping intending to buy only a few items and end up buying much, much more than they intended to.
Purchased items may be “hidden” from family and friends out of guilt.
Shopaholics are often in debt, have maxed out credit cards and are in generally bad financial straits due to spending beyond their means.
If some of these signs apply to you, then you might have a shopping addiction. Relax. Being addicted to shopping is not the end of the world. Acknowledging the problem is the first step towards resolving it. However, breaking free of shopping addiction may require the help of others. Your compulsion to shop may be the way you cope with issues such emotional problems or may even stem from psychological issues that you are not equipped to address. Being humble enough to accept that you need help is key. Moreover, addiction rarely occurs alone and may mask other problems and addictions. Seeking professional help may be necessary to resolve other issues that are clustered with the addiction. Left untreated, shopping addiction can cause problems as well.
Shopaholics often spend beyond their means. Despite appearing less harmful than other forms of addiction such as drug or alcohol abuse, shopping addiction can and does create serious problems that negatively affect the lives of people who suffer from it. The most obvious problem is financial.
This is because the urge to spend is generally indulged until they are no longer able to buy things. This usually means they have run out of money, maxed out their credit cards, and are unable to borrow funds to continue to feed their addiction. Consequently, shopaholics may potentially face financial and even legal problems if they are unable to fulfill their other financial obligations as a result of their addiction. Longtime shopaholics who are in bad financial straits may resort to borrowing money from family and friends in order to fuel their addiction.
Relationships with family and friends may grow strained over time because shopaholics have a tendency to continually borrow even if they lack the capacity to pay back their debt. Shopaholics who are married or in a committed relationship are more likely to have relationship problems because of their compulsion to spend. This can lead to failed marriages or broken relationships because their partners are no longer able to cope with the consequences of the addiction. The severity of their shopping addiction may be such that their quality of work goes down. Left unresolved, compulsive shopping can become just as problematic and self-destructive as other forms of addiction.
Managing a Shopping Addiction
Fortunately there are some things you can do to manage your shopping addiction before considering intervention.
Eschew the use of credit cards and opt instead to pay in cash or debit card. For big-ticket items, you can elect to pay by check.
Write a shopping list AND stick to it.
Avoid things like online stores or TV shopping channels.
Whenever you feel the urge to shop, acknowledge it, and then do something constructive such as exercise, or take up a hobby that does not require you to spend.
Consider ways to make it more difficult for you to spend money impulsively, such as making your money harder to access.
These are just some things that you can do in order to manage your condition. The basic idea is to make it more difficult for you to spend easily. This means being mindful of the things that trigger your compulsion. Are your shopping sprees seasonal or more regular? Do you tend to over-buy specific things? Or do you generally buy anything you can afford to buy? Why do you feel compelled to buy? Does the act of buying fill some emotional need? Determining these things can help you come up with a more effective means of managing your addiction. For example, if you generally shop as a means of dealing with stress, then substituting other forms of relaxing activities such as meditation, exercise or gardening may help you curb your urge to spend.
Despite your best efforts, however, you may still require the help of friends and family in order to get over your shopping addiction, or to prevent yourself from sliding back into it after you are cured.
You may want to consider placing your finances under the control of someone you trust so they can help regulate your spending. Remember, recognizing you have a problem is not a sign of weakness. Quite the contrary, it shows more inner strength to admit a problem and this also makes it easier to take the steps needed to heal the addiction. Of course, if your efforts are not enough, intervention from family and friends may be necessary for you to overcome your shopping addiction.
Intervention for Shopaholics
The Mayo Clinic defines intervention as a carefully planned process that involves the family, friends and sometimes even colleagues or other members of the community of a person struggling with addiction.
Although intervention may vary, it generally involves gathering the above-mentioned people to confront the person suffering from addiction, and getting them to accept treatment for their condition.
A carefully articulated plan of treatment, along with its phases, objectives and parameters is presented during the intervention. During the confrontation, the people involved may give specific examples of destructive behavior done by the addict and the consequent negative impact of the addict’s actions on themselves and their loved ones. The people doing the intervention also outline the consequences that will occur should treatment not be accepted.
In the case of shopping addiction, such intervention may entail that the shopaholic will no longer receive financial “bailouts” from family and friends should they refuse to accept treatment. However, the flipside of that is that they will receive the emotional and possibly financial support necessary to help them break free of their shopping addiction.
Successful interventions generally improve the situation, while unsuccessful ones might make the situation worse. In order for an intervention to be successful, careful planning is needed. In addition, the consequences of refusing treatment should be specific to each of the people who form the intervention group.
An intervention is usually more effective if the person suffering from addiction is open to receiving help.
Being receptive to the intervention helps ensure its success. Follow-up is also necessary to ensure the person who is struggling with addiction adheres to the treatment. In addition, it may be necessary to make lifestyle changes or to remove environmental factors such as living conditions that may be responsible for reinforcing the addiction. This is because doing so lowers the risk of backsliding.
Shopaholics should also avoid situations that may encourage them to spend unnecessarily. This may mean choosing to shop in alternative places instead of large commercial shopping centers and malls. Steering clear of shopping during periods when the urge to shop is reinforced, such as during holidays and annual sales, also helps prevent the addiction from reasserting itself.
Like other forms of addiction, shopping addiction is a disease. People who suffer from it are not being “weak” for succumbing to their compulsion to shop; however, shopping addiction seldom occurs alone. Shopaholics might also be suffering from other forms of addiction such as compulsive eating and even gambling.
Although there are ways of managing the addiction via self-help, shopaholics should highly consider seeking professional help or joining a self-help group in order to best deal with their addiction.
Uncovering the root of the problem will help lower the risk that it will return after successful treatment. Intervention may also be useful in ensuring that shopaholics seek treatment.