Shopping addiction, commonly referred to as "shop-aholism," is a less common but equally as destructive addiction as drugs or alcohol.  Shopping addiction is a process addiction in which an individual cannot control his or her impulse to purchase things.  The process addictions differ from chemical addictions in that it is a behavior or set of behaviors, compulsive in nature that a person becomes addicted to.  Although there is no substance involved, behavioral addictions are very powerful due to the fact that engaging in the behaviors triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, causing one to feel compelled to repeat the behavior in order to get the "high."

Shopping addiction, like other process addictions such as sex and gambling, has been on the rise in the past two decades due to the internet.  Whereas previously one would need to leave the home during specific hours in order to shop, it is now possible to shop online, from home, 24 hours a day.  Sites such as ebay can be highly addictive because they combine the allure of both shopping and gambling.  Internet shopping, in particular, is detrimental in that the psychological connection to one's finances is so removed.  Many sites store credit card information so that one can make a purchase with the click of a button.  Like actual shopping, the high one gets from making the purchase is short-lived, so the behavior must be repeated again and again in order to feel good.

Warning signs of shopping addiction are:

  • Spending over budget.  (Spending more than planned or more than one can afford.)
  • Hiding purchases.  Similar to one addicted to drugs or alcohol, a shopping addict will often hide his/her purchases, lie about them, intercept mail/credit card bills and have online purchases shipped to another address such as work.
  • Progression of the behavior.  A shopping addiction can often start out as getting out of control once a year (i.e the holidays) but over time will progress to the point that one is shopping more days than not, and possibly daily.
  • Shopping behavior that is out of control.  The hallmark of any addiction is compulsivity.  Someone with a shopping addiction will be powerless to stop the behavior, even in the face of severe consequences.
  • Relationship difficulties.  A shopping addict will inevitably become highly preoccupied with fantasizing about, planning, and engaging in shopping.  As a result, his or her relationships with friends and family will deteriorate as the obsession grows.

The good news is that there is help for someone suffering from a shopping addiction.  Debtors Anonymous is a 12-Step oriented program based on the same principles as Alcoholics Anonymous and is aimed at helping someone stop acting out this pattern of destructive behavior.   In addition, there is a lot of evidence suggesting that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is highly effective for the process addictions.  Finding a therapist who is knowledgeable about process addictions and fluent in CBT as well as attending a support group such as DA can provide the support necessary to help someone learn to get back the control over their lives that shopping has taken.

New Hope Recovery Center offers programs to address co-occuring process addictions such as shopping. If you have any questions, please contact us!

Written by: New Hope Recovery Center