Dealing with Financial Debt and Loss from a Shopping Addiction

Woman shopping

Contributor: Sierra by the Sea clinical team member Heather Wilk, MA, NCC, LCPC

While it can be exciting to be able to purchase something nice for oneself out of necessity or as a reward for accomplishing a goal, there are those who shop so frequently and spend such exorbitant amounts of money that it becomes problematic. Shopping addiction (or compulsive buying), which is characterized by a compulsion to shop that is driven by the need to achieve some level of personal satisfaction, is a concern that affects as many as twenty million Americans [1].

Many who grapple with this type of process addiction are incapable of resisting the urge to spend money on things, and, once the purchase or purchases have been made, the individual oftentimes experiences a great deal of guilt, shame, and impairment in his or her daily functioning. And while the consequences of battling a shopping addiction differ from that of an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol, the aftereffects of engaging in compulsive spending can devastate a person’s life.

Shopping Addiction Produces an Immense Toll on Life

When a person is suffering from a shopping addiction, an immense toll can be taken on several areas of an individual’s life. Relationships can become strained, occupational performance can become stunted and result in job loss, and the development of mental health and substance use concerns can begin to impact a person’s life.

Additionally, and perhaps most obviously, those who partake in the reckless spending that occurs when struggling with an addiction to shopping are burdened with enormous financial difficulties.

Researchers believe that the inception of an addiction to shopping can start during late adolescence [2]. Meaning, a person can begin to engage in this behavior in his or her late teens, begin accumulating debt from that age, and continue to increase his or her debt well into adulthood if it does not stop.

As time presses on and the amount owed to creditors or other financial bodies increases, the total sum a person is “in the red” can be gargantuan, and make the individual feel as though there is no way to amend such a problem. What is important to know, however, is that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and all is not lost for those who are struggling with a shopping addiction and financial debt and loss.

Important First Steps for Treating Shopping Addiction

Teenage girl having headache in the morningSimilar to what those who are addicted to substances often do when they begin the process of recovery, men and women who are addicted to shopping must admit that they have a problem.

By admitting that one is powerless against his or her compulsion to shop, one can then being to make the changes that are needed to overcome the need to spend frivolously and tackle the money problems that have accrued.

But before such changes can take place, it is important to consider doing the following first:

Seek treatment:

There are many benefits to seeking treatment for a shopping addiction. A person can come to understand why he or she became trapped in this type of compulsive behavior, and an individual can learn if he or she is suffering from additional mental health concerns at the same time.

Treatment professionals can also help those addicted to shopping learn more about themselves, and help them establish coping skills and personal goals for the future that do not include the frequent or overspending of money.

Join a support group:

Support groups do exist for individuals who are working to overcome shopping addictions. Additionally, there are groups available that support individuals who have accumulated a large amount of debt.

Both of these types groups provide a great deal of support, and can encourage attendees to hold true to their recovery or other personal goals.

Enlist the help and support of loved ones:

Over time, as a person’s addiction to shopping worsens, he or she may begin to withdrawal from loved ones. When working to recover from a shopping addiction, it is a good idea to attempt to mend familial and other close relationships so that the individuals closest to a person in recovery can be there for support and assist the individual in abstaining from compulsively shopping.

Learning to Manage Money

money in hand

Secondly, it is a good idea to learn how to manage money more effectively and decrease any existing debt. This can be done during the course of treatment, or can be tackled after being in treatment for a short while.

Given the anxiety that is often experienced when overwhelming financial strain looms, seeking the guidance and assistance of a financial advisor or another knowledgeable person can help with the recovery process as well. During this process and while in recovery, it is important also to keep the following in mind:

    1. Understand that the recovery process is just that – a process. When working to overcome an addiction to shopping, you will likely learn why you have developed this concern and form healthy methods for coping with the urge to shop. Along the way, you may still feel compelled to buy things you do not need, but by sticking with treatment recommendations and your own goals, you will be able to persevere through this challenging time in your life.
    2. Large debt as a result of a shopping addiction did not likely develop overnight, so try to remain patient with how quickly this debt is paid off. As long as you hold true to your recovery goal of abstaining from idle spending, you will slowly see a decrease in the money you owe.
    3. If additional concerns arise, such as overwhelming mental health issues, conflict with loved ones, or if you feel as though your confidence in yourself is wavering, do not hesitate to seek the assistance of others or a professional. It is imperative that you keep in mind that you are not along in your struggles.

When working to overcome a shopping addiction and the resulting financial strain and loss, it is crucial to seek proper care and to not give up on yourself. As with confronting any of life’s obstacles, it is possible to come out the other side and live the happy, healthy life you deserve to be living.


1 Plummer, DaVida. (July 7, 2014). “Debt addiction: Red is not the new black.” CNBC. Retrieved from
2 Miller, Korin. (September 30, 2015). “Scientists: Shopping addiction is real…and here’s how to tell if you have it.” Yahoo! Health. Retrieved from

About the author:

“Dealing with Financial Debt and Loss from a Shopping Addiction” was written by Sierra by the Sea clinical team member Heather Wilk, MA, NCC, LCPC. Heather has several years of experience working in the field of mental health as a psychotherapist, and has her Master’s degree in Community Counseling from Concordia University – Chicago.

Site Description:

Sierra by the Sea offers Detox, Residential, PHP, and IOP (ages 18+) for those struggling with substance abuse primary. Dual Diagnosis is available. Does have treatment focused on trauma and mood disorders. Gender-specific housing and extended stay options.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on February 4, 2016
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 13, 2021
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