People laugh about being addicted to shopping after a day at the mall, and it’s usually taken as a simple joke among friends. Unfortunately, many people do suffer from this rarely discussed compulsion. In fact, shopping addiction affects an estimated 18 million people across the U.S.
Shopping addicts make purchases compulsively, and they may feel as though they have no control over their behavior. The urge to purchase new items is so strong, in fact, that people suffering from shopping addiction will continue to buy and buy, regardless of their financial state.
This type of dependency is essentially no different than any other type of addiction. Like other compulsions, this behavior triggers the reward center of the brain. Making purchases leaves the buyer with a feeling of excitement. The brain becomes flooded with dopamine and endorphins, literally giving the shopper a high. This sensation becomes a drive and builds upon itself to compound the addiction.
The Different Types Of Shopping Addictions
There are several categories of shopping addiction. Regardless of the label, each is fueled by emotion, although the particular drive varies:
- Flashy shopaholics spend big and look for the most dazzling items. Their goal (or reward) is to impress others.
- Bargain hunters will buy products that they don’t need simply because they’re on sale. Getting a deal is what drives the addiction.
- Compulsion-shopping addicts turn to retail when they’re emotionally strained. The act of purchasing relieves anxiety.
- Trophy hunters want to find the perfect items and will search diligently for the best products. The search is the compulsion.
- Collectors want multiple versions of the same item in a different color, size, etc. For these individuals, collecting fuels the addiction.
- Bulimic shoppers – as the names suggests – cycle through buying and returning items.
Recognizing Shopping Addiction
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if someone you know is addicted to shopping. After all, many people use shopping as a method for controlling their world or relaxing. The term “shopping therapy” was coined for a reason.
The amount of money spent can’t always be a guideline either. The spending of bulimic shoppers is hard to trace. Likewise, trophy hunters may not seem to be spending excessively.
Another reason why it can be difficult to spot a shopaholic is that they will likely hide the evidence. If you notice a loved one hiding receipts, bags and credit card bills, it could be a cause for concern. Reluctance to discuss the amount spent, especially with a spouse or close family member, may be an indicator that there is an issue.
The Symptoms Of Shopping Addiction
Because spending is often out of their control, shopping addicts are likely to ring up bigger bills than they can afford. Many of them are forced to resort to heavy credit card use to support their habit. When people immediately turn to shopping as a way of dealing with depression, anger or stress, it may indicate a more serious problem.
Ironically, some people will even treat their guilt over shopping with more shopping. The distraction works so well temporarily that it creates a vicious cycle of excitement and guilt. Addicts will often put so much emphasis on spending and shopping that their personal relationships suffer.
The mistrust created by hiding the evidence of their purchases is enough to tear relationships with significant others apart. Once individuals lose control of their shopping and spending, they’ve descended into addiction.
Short- And Long-Term Effects Of Addiction To Shopping
Like most addictions, shopping can offer pleasurable short-term effects. There’s an immediate feeling of euphoria and excitement that comes with making a purchase. Unfortunately, that happiness quickly begins to fade to guilt and anxiety – sometimes as soon as the purchase has been made. These feelings often build as time goes by and can result in another shopping trip to offset the unpleasant emotions.
The long-term effects vary based on the length and severity of the addiction. Some people can amass thousands of dollars of debt and entire rooms full of items. Others may have spare closets stuffed or collections hidden beneath their beds. Either way, shopping addiction generally results in severe damage to the family’s finances.
Is Treatment Available?
For people who suffer from shopping addiction, there are options for trying to overcome the habit. After undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy, most shopaholics can make a full recovery and lead an entirely normal life. If you or a loved one is suffering from this type of addiction, seek professional assistance to gain control over the dependency.