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Blog reviewed by Pamela Roberts (BSc (Hons), Fd Systemic/Family, Dip.Addictions Therapy, Dip.Sex Addiction, PG Dip.Group Facilitation, PG Dip.Trauma Therapy), Addictions Programme Manager at Priory Hospital Woking

Shopping addiction, which is also known as compulsive shopping disorder, is where the desire to make purchases or spend money becomes so great that it causes you to lose control over whether you act on these urges or not.

In recent years, shopping addiction has come to incorporate online shopping, as well as ‘face-to-face’ transactions. As people spend an increasing amount of time online, shopping addiction is an issue people are facing more than ever.

Can you be addicted to spending money?

When something becomes a habit, you feel powerless to stop. This can include spending money and shopping. If you are addicted to spending money, and are finding that it is affecting your finances, relationships, health and quality of life, this is just as serious as any other addiction.

When we make a purchase, our brain releases endorphins and dopamine. For some, this momentary pleasure can lead to compulsive shopping, as the instant reward and motivation to re-experience the ‘rush’ starts to outweigh self-control and practical financial considerations.

Compulsive spending - which is also known as oniomania, shopping addiction and pathological buying - is when a person feels an uncontrollable need to shop and spend, either for themselves or others. Within this article, we will outline the signs and symptoms of compulsive shopping and spending, and highlight the treatment that is available for such addictions at Priory.

Signs of compulsive shopping and compulsive spending

If you are worried that you have lost control over the amount that you shop and spend, take a look at a number of the common signs and symptoms of a shopping addiction:

  • You spend as a reaction to feeling angry, sad or stressed
  • Your buying habits constantly distract you from other priorities
  • You buy excessive amounts of things you don’t really need
  • You hoard the items you buy and don’t use the things you purchase
  • You spend excessive amounts of money on extravagant gifts
  • You spend over and above your budget, or ignoring your budget
  • You spend an excessive amount of time visiting shops or shopping online
  • You have multiple store cards, juggle a number of credit cards and have run up a significant debt
  • You hide purchases, receipts and bank statements from family members
  • You've become increasingly secretive around shopping habits or finances, or both
  • You get angry at spending limitations imposed by others
  • You have attempted to cut down or stop shopping in the past, but have been unable to. This may have included deleting shopping apps or making a monthly budget, but finding that you were unable to persevere
Priory psychotherapist Pamela Roberts comments

“Shopping addiction is easy to dismiss as someone being “bad with money”, irresponsible or just ill-disciplined. Society promotes the positive effects of shopping as beneficial - “give yourself a treat”, “what you need is some retail therapy”. We are exposed to highly sophisticated marketing techniques. It is easy to see how this, together with the very real, if short lived, psychological benefit and ‘easing’ from stress or emotional pain that making a purchase can bring, is for some akin to the short-term benefits of substances.

Read more about Pamela Roberts comments here.

What is causing you to shop and spend compulsively?

Many people develop an addiction as a way to cope with their emotions. This is the same for those with a shopping addiction.

Compulsive shopping and spending may be a way for you to avoid or mask negative and uncomfortable feelings such as sadness, boredom, stress and anxiety. For example, if you are dealing with something difficult at work, home, or in your relationships, you may turn to shopping to distract yourself and temporarily boost your mood. Over time, shopping may have become a habit and something that you consistently resort to as a distraction from life’s problems.

A shopping addiction can also be a way for a person to cope with difficult emotions, feelings or memories. It can become a way of numbing and muting pain or distress. However, it is an unhealthy coping strategy that doesn’t effectively deal with this pain or distress and can also lead to a person feeling worse in the long term.

The effects of compulsive shopping and spending

Having a compulsive urge to shop and spend is likely to be having a dramatic and destructive effect on your life, and possibly the lives of those closest to you.

While you may still experience that initial rush of endorphins and dopamine when you buy something, it’s likely that these temporary feelings of excitement give way to guilt, shame and anxiety in the immediate aftermath of making a purchase. These feelings may then result in you going back to the shops or using shopping apps to spend more, and thus, you soon become trapped in what feels like a vicious cycle.

When you are addicted to shopping, the real-world effects of the addiction can include:

  • Financial strain – shopping addiction can lead to debt from credit cards, store cards, loans and overdrafts
  • Relationship problems - it can place a significant strain on your relationships. This can happen for a number of reasons, including the secrecy, isolation and emotional pain caused by the addiction. If family or friends have noticed that there’s an issue, this may have also started to put added pressure on your relationships
  • Worsening mental health - addiction itself can place a significant strain on your mental health, leaving you feeling sad, stressed and anxious. If you are using shopping as a way to deal with difficult emotions you were already experiencing, your addiction can also leave you feeling worse or even depressed overtime

Getting support for compulsive shopping and spending

If you are worried about your compulsive shopping, the most important first step for you to take is to recognise and accept that you have a problem.

Then, it is recommended that you seek support to help you overcome the issue. If you would like to come and speak to the Priory team, one of our free assessments* gives you the opportunity to learn more about us and ask any questions you have. It also helps our specialists to find out more about your circumstances so that they can recommend the most effective shopping addiction treatment.

At Priory, we are able to provide therapeutic programmes to people with shopping addictions. During this time, you will learn new ways to handle stress and any other negative emotions that have been causing you to shop and spend. Our team will also help you to understand the underlying reasons and triggers for your shopping habits, while providing you with coping strategies for an addiction-free life going forward. 

*Individuals with dual diagnosis may need to be assessed by a Consultant Psychiatrist which is a chargeable appointment.

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