Although not formally recognized by the medical establishment, compulsive shopping can be a big problem and it's one that is on the rise in my practice. Shopping becomes a compulsion when it is excessive and out of control, and leads to social, legal, or financial troubles. Similar to other addictions, shopping can provide a high, one where there's a release of endorphins and dopamine, the same feel good neurotransmitters that are released during a drug high. Like drugs, this behavior is positively reinforced by a fleeting feeling of euphoria, a rush of excitement providing a short-lived cure for loneliness, anxiety, or depression.
Shopping for some may also serve as a confidence booster, as they think buying certain items may make them appear more prosperous or glamorous than they really are. And of course, the public is inundated by print ads, billboards, commercials, and the like serving as constant enticements to someone who is prone to compulsive shopping. Ultimately the person must understand what he/she is really shopping for and learn other ways to meet their needs and address the underlying issues.
How to recognize if shopping might be a problem:
- You lie about spending or you hide your purchases.
- You feel guilty about shopping.
- You feel anxious or depressed if you can't shop.
- You use shopping as a way to lift your mood.
- You have a secret credit card.
- You shop excessively and enter a store to purchase one item but often leave with many more.
- You feel lost without credit cards.
- There's increased arguing around the issue of shopping with people you're close to such as family, friends, or a significant other.
How to tackle it:
- Recognize the difference between necessity and desire and make a shopping list of essential items only.
- Understand what activates your desire to shop. Write it down and take note of any trends or themes. For example, is it on a stressful Monday that you shop most? Weekends? Pinpoint the triggers.
- Ask yourself: what's really missing in my life? Do I really need 10 handbags or might this be a sign of something else that I want?
- Pay by cash only and get rid of credit cards and check books - if necessary, keep one with a friend for emergencies.
- Bring a friend along for support when shopping
- Avoid the discount warehouses as they are as enticing as Las Vegas to a gambling addict.
- To counter desires, try window shopping after hours or leaving your wallet at home by day.
- Find and schedule alternative activities to shopping. What are some healthy ways to deal with stress? Perhaps exercise, hanging out with friends, reading, or watching a movie. Explore your options.
- Deal with any underlying issues of depression, anxiety, or relationships stress with a professional.