A Guide to Compulsive Spending & Shopping Addiction & Abuse

Shopping & spending addiction, also known as compulsive buying disorder, is described as an overwhelming compulsion to spend money, regardless of your needs or financial means. A shopping addiction can be as destructive as substance addiction.

Knowing how to explain your concerns and receive the help you need starts with understanding that there are underlying causes to shopping addiction.

What is Spending & Shopping Addiction?

Although not recognised as a distinct disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, compulsive shopping is slowly being recognised by healthcare professionals as a mental health disorder and can cause severe consequences similar to substance addiction.

There are signs that you or a loved one have an unhealthy relationship with shopping:

  • Spending more than is affordable
  • Shopping as a reaction to feeling angry or depressed (Retail Therapy)
  • Shopping as a way to feel less guilty about a previous shopping spree (Shoppers Remorse)
  • Harming your relationships due to spending or shopping too much
  • Losing control of your shopping behaviour
  • Declining financial situation
  • Shopping in secret & hiding your purchases

Compulsive & Impulsive Shopping - Is there a difference?

Impulsive shopping is a sudden desire to purchase something that you have either just seen on the shelf or online, even if you originally did not need to source the product previously. Impulse buying is more about possessing the product rather than the act of purchasing it.

Internet shopping has made it easier to spend money impulsively, 2019 showed that 82% of UK shoppers made online purchases and this percentage grew to 87% in 2020 (Statista – The Statistics Portal for Market Data, Market Research and Market Studies) in no small part due to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns in the UK. (E-commerce worldwide – statistics & facts). Unfortunately, online shopping has also provided the perfect environment for compulsive shopping disorders to flourish.

When you purchase compulsively you may have very little interest in the product, but feel an overwhelming need to release your psychological tension through the act of making a purchase. You may also have found yourself preoccupied with shopping:

  • A significant part of your day is spent shopping or planning purchases
  • You think about shopping when you should be doing something else
  • You find yourself easily distracted from conversations by thoughts of shopping

Common Spending & Shopping Addiction Purchases

You may have specific shops that you like to purchase from either in person or online, ranging from high-end stores and boutiques to thrift shops and garage sales. The items typically purchased are:

  • clothing,
  • shoes,
  • Entertainment purchases (games, DVD’s etc),
  • jewellery,
  • cosmetics,
  • household items
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    How Spending & Shopping Addiction Develops

    Shopping and spending addictions start slowly, like a habit that forms until suddenly you have an overwhelming compulsion to spend money.

    There are often underlying causes that drive your urges and understanding, treating and recognising these causes will help you get in control again.

    There is also a strong link between the onset of compulsive shopping and the corresponding age when you can get credit accounts, or when you have moved away from home, the onset could start as early as your late teens or early twenties(A review of compulsive buying disorder) or even in your 30’s (Compulsive buying: a report of 20 cases) and could last decades before you feel compelled to ask for help.

    Trauma & Pre-existing Mental Health Conditions (Dual diagnosis)

    Spending and Shopping addiction are associated with significant psychiatric comorbidities:

    • mood and anxiety disorders,
    • substance use disorders,
    • eating disorders,
    • impulse control disorders
    • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

    A Family History of Addiction

    Shopping and Spending addictions tend to run in families and are also likely to cause or be caused by a higher incidence of mood and substance use disorders. (Family history and psychiatric comorbidity in persons with compulsive buying: preliminary findings)

    Diagnosing Spending & Shopping Addiction

    An assessment of your attitude and behaviours towards shopping and spending money will be needed to make a diagnosis, you may be asked the following questions to determine the depth of your addiction:

    1. Do you feel overly preoccupied with shopping and spending?
    2. Do you ever feel that your shopping behaviour is excessive, inappropriate or uncontrolled?
    3. Have your shopping desires, urges, fantasies or behaviours ever been overly time-consuming?
    4. Have they caused you to feel upset or guilty?
    5. Lead to serious problems in your life such as financial, legal problems or the loss of a relationship?
      (A review of compulsive buying disorder)

    The Impact of Spending & Shopping Addiction on Family

    Having a shopping addiction can seriously impact your financial situation, adding to your debt and eating away at your earnings. This has serious consequences for your family life, you may lose assets such as your home or vehicles to repossession to pay off credit cards.

    Compulsive shopping can also impact your employment especially as you are preoccupied with thoughts of shopping, or spending your working hours online shopping.

    Spending & Shopping Addiction in Marriage: Can a marriage survive?

    For your marriage to survive any addiction, both you and your spouse will need to attend therapy to address the roles both of you have played in this disorder.

    mother and daughter comfort

    Advice on staying in recovery:

    Whilst medication and a 28 day stay in rehab may be the start you need, continuing to control your shopping behaviours takes focus and an understanding that reliance on medication isn’t enough, you will need to:

    • A. Admit that you have a shopping addiction;
    • B. Get rid of your credit cards and chequebooks, because they are easy sources of funds that fuel your disorder;
    • C. Avoid online purchases;
    • D. Shop with a friend or relative; the presence of a person without shopping addiction will help curb your tendency to overspend;
    • E. Find meaningful ways to spend your leisure time other than shopping.
      (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1805733/)

    At the end of the day, you are not alone, you are loved and supported, even if it may not feel like it. You can lean on supportive loved ones.

    Reach out to us if you need additional help or support.

    Getting Help for Spending & Shopping Addiction

    Whilst you may find it hard to accept that shopping and spending money has become a compulsive problem, you are not alone, there is treatment available to help you to understand and overcome your addiction. From residential rehabilitation to outpatient and self-help options, we can help you find the best treatment programme for your needs

    Behavioural therapies are evidence-based and have success rates for behavioural disorders, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (Overview – Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)) helps you to identify the thought processes behind your behaviour patterns, your therapist will work alongside you as you learn to change these thoughts processes. CBT can be done in a one to one environment as well as part of group therapy

    Family therapy This helps with accountability and responsibility for actions also addictions don’t only affect you, you may want to enrol in family therapy to help heal the damage your addiction has caused your loved ones.

    Medications may be prescribed where your shopping addiction is driven by underlying mental health issues.

    Support Groups such as Debtors Anonymous (Debtors Anonymous UK – helping people recover from compulsive debting and underearning) can help you to get on top of your spending issues through a 12 step programme

    Useful self-help suggestions can be found on Mind UK (Getting support)

    Spending & Shopping Addiction FAQ
    You may have a lot of questions about amphetamine detox. If you are unable to find the answer below please give us a call and speak to one of our addiction specialists today.
    What makes Spending & Shopping addictive?
    Shopping is an unavoidable part of life, unfortunately, poor impulse control, mood disorders and stress can increase your risk of using shopping to release your emotional tension. Shopping releases pleasure hormones that flood your brain, causing you to try to recreate the ‘high’ again and again no matter the consequences.
    How long does it take to become addicted to Spending & Shopping?
    A behavioural addiction such as shopping generally starts small and gradually builds up momentum as you search for the perceived fulfilment you get after shopping
    How do you know if a loved one is addicted to Spending & Shoppings?
    • Spending more than they can afford
    • Shopping as a reaction to feeling angry or depressed
    • Shopping as a way to feel less guilty about a previous shopping spree
    • Harming relationships due to spending or shopping too much
    • Losing control of the shopping behaviour
    How can I help someone with Spending & Shopping addiction?
    If someone you love is struggling with a shopping addiction they need your love and support but in a healthy way. A few tips include:

    • Not paying their bills because that only encourages them.
    • Try to help them find new activities to take their mind off shopping.
    • Encouraging them to seek support and treatment from a treatment centre specialised in behavioural addictions.