Is Your Shopping Out of Control? Signs of a Shopping Addiction


Spending Frivolously? You May Have a Shopping Addiction

Addictions are dangerous.

They usually start small before growing and festering into something larger and more hazardous. Given enough time, addictions can negatively impact every aspect of your life.

When people think about addictions, they usually imagine someone abusing alcohol, illicit drugs, or even prescription medications. In reality, addictions and addictive behaviors can form around a wide range of interests and actions.

You don’t have to be using heroin to have an addiction. Even simple, everyday activities like shopping can progress down the road of addiction.

Defining Shopping Addiction and What Causes Compulsive Shopping

Finding a unified understanding of shopping addiction is tricky because the condition is not yet officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). This group maintains a comprehensive record of all accepted mental health conditions called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Shopping addiction is not listed in the DSM-5. Currently, the only addiction listed in the text NOT related to a substance of abuse is gambling disorder.

Even though this might seem like an unwillingness to note the problematic nature of shopping addictions, it is a positive step towards acknowledging that people’s addictions can form from common behaviors.

Since there is not universal acceptance of shopping addiction, you may encounter various terms including:

  • Shopping addiction
  • Compulsive buying disorder
  • Compulsive shopping
  • Compulsive spending disorder

Someone dealing with the condition may be referred to as a “shopaholic.”

Despite naming differences, shopping addiction will involve an obsessive focus on shopping or buying things, and an uncontrollable need to make purchases, even when doing so could create unwanted issues.

Although shopping addiction does not make its way into the official DSM-5 list, the condition affects many in the U.S. and across the world. Estimates indicate that between 2 percent and 16 percent of the general population have some issues with a shopping addiction. These numbers vary because of the uncertain guidelines researchers use in their surveys.

Signs of Shopping Addiction

Although shopping addiction will have many unique traits compared to substance use addictions, there will be many overlapping qualities. General signs of addiction include:

  • Shopping more often or spending tremendous amounts of money than intended.
  • Seeing the need to cut back or reduce shopping, but your attempts are unsuccessful.
  • When you are not shopping, you feel a strong desire to be shopping.
  • Shopping and overspending negatively impact your ability to perform your regular duties at home, work, or school.
  • Continuing to shop even though it is damaging your relationships with family and friends.
  • Devoting more time to shopping and spending less time engaging in recreational or social activities.
  • Placing a greater focus on having money and getting more money to fund your shopping habits.

To gather more information about your shopping habits, you can ask yourself questions like:

  • Do I shop because I am bored?
  • Do I buy many useless items or things I don’t need?
  • Am I in incredible debt because of shopping?
  • Do I shop to make myself feel better?
  • Am I more interested in the act of buying something than actually using it?
  • Do my friends and family always tell me to stop shopping or get angry with me when I shop?

Remember, not every item from the lists above will apply to you or your relationship with shopping. Having only one or two signs of addiction will indicate a problem with shopping.

Avoid Denial

Another important consideration when reviewing the lists is the notion you may minimize or ignore specific behaviors related to shopping. You may deny that anything is wrong, and the other people in your life are the ones with issues.

This reaction is understandable but problematic.

For a more honest view of your shopping tendencies, consult with trusted supports in your life. By asking for their opinions regarding your shopping, you can gain a better insight into the quantity and severity of your symptoms.

Shopping Addiction, Mania or Kleptomania

With any mental health concern, it is critical to accurately diagnosis and identifies the issue. Shopping addiction can be confused with other mental health conditions, which can lead to misdiagnosis and time wasted with inappropriate treatments.

The first condition mistaken for shopping addiction is mania. Mania or hypomania are parts of bipolar disorder, respectively.

During a manic or hypomanic episode, the individual will have high levels of energy, a decreased need for sleep, and a euphoric or irritable mood. People in the midst of these episodes also are likely to engage in risky behaviors like overspending money.

The excessive shopping will only take place during a manic or hypomanic episode, though, and these only last for about a week at a time. If the shopping is more persistent, it probably isn’t bipolar-related.

The second mistaken condition is kleptomania. Kleptomania is an impulse-control disorder where the individual is compelled to steal merchandise from stores, even with the risk of being caught.

The prominent difference between a shopping addiction and kleptomania is the person with kleptomania does not pay for any of these items. The act is related to the thrill of stealing, not the gratification of making a purchase.

Shopping as a Healthy Coping Skill

Indeed, not all shopping is wrong or problematic. Shopping is a perfectly normal and healthy coping skill enjoyed by many.

A coping skill is a behavior or thought that helps change your feelings from bad to good. All people have coping skills that range from excellent to poor.

So-called retail therapy is a fine coping skill as people can feel excitement and satisfaction from making a well-deserved purchase. Your spending and shopping time are not excessive, so the behavior continues to be positive.

Even better, shopping can become a social activity where you make plans, leave your home, and gather with friends or family. Maybe you decide to meet up for lunch, do some shopping, and share your thoughts and feelings. Here, the situation is less about the shopping and more about the socialization.

Positive coping skills are easy to identify because they are based on deferred gratification, which means that they can make you feel good now and feel good in the future. Shopping as a positive coping skill is a win/ win arrangement.

Shopping as an Unhealthy Coping Skill

Every positive, healthy coping skill can become unhealthy and harmful when taken to an extreme. Maybe shopping was once a great way to cope, but now things are changing.

You find yourself shopping more often, spending more money, meeting with friends less, and keeping to yourself more. Rather than buying at retail locations, you are continually looking at online shops obsessively scanning for the best deals.

Even though you used to engage in many coping skills to manage your feelings, you are only using shopping now. You are buying so many items, when they are delivered to the house, you have no memory of making the purchase and no interest in keeping the items.

Here, the positive coping skill of shopping has clearly crossed the line into a negative coping skill. Rather than shopping making you feel good in the short-term and the long-term, it is creating a strong but short “high” feeling followed by a longer period of shame and guilt.

With time, the high gets less intense, so you need to shop more to maintain the same level of satisfaction from the act. Your brain develops a tolerance to shopping just like someone develops a tolerance to alcohol.

Healthy coping skills are based on deferred gratification, but unhealthy coping skills are based on instant gratification. Negative copings skills are usually the easy option but never the best option.

Next page: The addiction cycle, seeking treatment for compulsive shopping, and more. 

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