Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy What Is It Like to Have Shopping Addiction and How to Deal with It

What Is It Like to Have Shopping Addiction and How to Deal with It

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For those who are addicted, shopping is the medicine – usually a temporary comfort from stress, anxiety, loneliness, and fear for example, chased closely by guilt and shame. This then needs ‘comforting’ with more shopping ‘medicine’. Addiction is a vicious cycle.

Stepping away from shopping addiction requires firstly figuring out whether you have the problem. If you honestly answer ‘yes’ to any of the following questions, Shopaholics Anonymous suggests you may have an addiction:

  • Do you shop when you feel angry or disappointed?
  • Has overspending created problems in your life?
  • Do you have conflicts with loved ones about your need to shop?
  • While shopping, do you feel euphoric rushes or anxiety?
  • After shopping, do you feel like you have just finished doing something wild or dangerous?
  • After shopping, do you ever feel ashamed, guilty or embarrassed about what you have done?
  • Do you frequently buy things that you never end up using or wearing?
  • Do you think about money almost all the time?

Attempts to stop shopping will cause many people addicted to shopping to experience withdrawal symptoms, not dissimilar to the withdrawals a person will have when addicted to alcohol or drugs.

It is such a surprise to learn that withdrawals are not just about a physical dependence to a substance. Psychological withdrawals are often more subtle but equally overwhelming. Of course, withdrawals vary from person to person and are often noticed as a feeling of irritability, depression.

If you know you have a problem with shopping addiction and understanding that there will be withdrawals, a next good step is getting help. It’s a good idea to remove shopping apps but of course any ‘good addict’ knows these can simply be downloaded again. It will require determination, in your most desperate moments:

  • Pay attention to your relationship with money. Sometimes this is intertwined with generational financial legacies, attitudes and experiences with money that are passed through the family line. Identifying patterns of behaviour and beliefs won’t cure the addiction but it can help in understanding some of the potential underlying monetary matters
  • Consider how you handled money in childhood, and the financial circumstances of the family. How was money regarded and managed? What were the influences towards money from grandparents or older generations?
  • It’s impossible for someone addicted to shopping to stop shopping completely, and hoarding and deprivation are simply the other extreme. So, recovery involves starting to pay attention to finances, keep an eye on expenditure, and create a spending plan. In this way instead of indulging or depriving, a plan helps to determine what’s affordable, what’s necessary. It enables you to make choices rather than spend uncontrollably
  • Stop using your credit card. Rather than try to do this alone, (addiction, after all, is isolating), seek out some support. There are self-help groups where it’s possible to find out how other people manage the need for comfort through shopping. There are also people who understand without judgement. These can often be people where you can remain honest and accountable – going underground simply keeps the need to escape alive and strong

Recovery from any addiction, including shopping addiction, is never going to be a straight line. This is a process of learning and change. It does require a change of thinking and attitude which not only takes time but also requires help. This does require active engagement with the process of change, it doesn’t just happen. It’s not easy; hence the self-help groups can bolster the changes especially when the temptation to shop is strong. And it will be. It’s not impossible, however, to overcome this with the right help.

Pamela Roberts, addiction therapy manager at Priory Hospital Woking 

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