By Lori Bushell, LCPC, CSAT, CMAT, The Antioch Group
From winter’s cold weather into the warmer spring season, shopping can be one of America’s favorite pastimes. From shopping commercials and infomercials to amazon.com, shopping is easily accessible and accommodating to all consumers with instant gratification and delivery at your doorstep. You don’t even need to leave home. For most people, this could mean purchasing some clothes or a gift for a friend. For others, however, shopping can be a destructive behavior that can lead to a financial disaster.
Nearly 18 million Americans are problem shoppers. They are unable to stop the excessive, compulsive behaviors that lead them into debt, broken relationships, anxiety, and depression. Compulsive shopping (otherwise known as oniomania) is a serious, often secretive behavior with profound social, emotional, occupational, and financial consequences. Over-shopping is a short-term coping mechanism to manage anxiety and loneliness. However, this behavior actually perpetuates the negative emotions that one was seeking to gratify. The more a person uses shopping as an attempt to fill an inner void, lift their spirits, or pursue a “perfect” image, the more important it is to take a closer look at the negative impacts involved.
Like any addiction, shopping addicts suffer from loss of control, withdrawal in the form of preoccupation, denial, and dishonesty about one’s behaviors. There are several signs and symptoms of a shopping addiction including a tendency to purchase items but not use or wear them, debt from excessive spending, conflicts in relationships over spending habits, missing bill payments, juggling accounts to purchase more items, and using credit cards/checks for unnecessary purchases when running low on cash. This behavior can lead to experiencing anxious feelings before, during, and after shopping.
Intense feelings of dread, guilt, and shame leave the person feeling worse after the shopping spree. As a result, the behavior of over-shopping becomes cyclical. To avoid negative emotions, shopping creates a high or euphoric feeling from reward neurotransmitters in the brain while making a purchase, but the relief is only temporary. Shopping addicts tend to have both obsessive thoughts about shopping and have ritualistic behaviors around the shopping experience. The shopping addict will spend a large amount of time thinking about the details of each upcoming excursion, including what stores or online sites they will visit, timing of when shopping will occur, and how to hide the packages once purchases are received. Obsessive thinking can make it difficult for the over-shopper to concentrate at work and in their interpersonal relationships. This, combined with the acting out behavior of overspending can lead the shopping addict feeling disconnected and isolated from loved ones and the rest of the world.
Oftentimes, shopping addiction can be misunderstood by close friends and family, who view the behavior as simply being irresponsible with money or uncaring about the financial needs of the family. Loved ones often feel anger, hurt, or unappreciated and this adds stress on the relationship. The shopping addict does not intentionally mean to hurt loved ones and will continue to feel worse about the inability to control their behavior. The discomfort can influence the person to shop or spend even more.
There is hope in overcoming shopping addiction for you or someone you know whom may be suffering. The best approach depends on the person, and a trained mental health professional can further assist in exploring available treatment options. Individual counseling, support groups, and couples/family counseling are available to help compulsive shoppers learn how to overcome their destructive habits and behaviors and live in recovery. Help is available.
Can you relate to this article?; Maybe you know someone that could use help with compulsive shopping habits. Contact the Antioch Group at 6615 N. Big Hollow Rd., Peoria, IL.; Call today at 309-692-6622 or visit online: www.antiochgroup.com.
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