When Shopping is Out of Control: Signs you might be a shopaholic

Shopping should be fun, but out-of-control shopping is no laughing matter. An occasional shopping spree isn’t a problem for most people, and even an impulse purchase once in awhile isn’t necessarily a sign of trouble. However, a true shopping addiction can create a morass of problems that may take years to unwind.

Compulsive Shopping is Much Like Other Addictions

Also known as compulsive buying disorder, compulsive shopping is indication of a problem with impulse control, much like gambling or compulsive eating disorder. Like other addictions, shopping causes the brain to release dopamine and other “feel good” chemicals. The resulting “rush” leads to cravings for more of the activity.

It’s not uncommon for compulsive shoppers to struggle with substance abuse, and many are also diagnosed with depression, anxiety or other mood disorders.

Shopaholics are at risk of losing homes, ruining relationships, or destroying a good credit rating. Sometimes, compulsive shoppers spend money set aside for retirement or a child’s college education.

Compulsive buying may be a seasonal problem, or it may occur year round. Although most shopaholics are women, men can also be compulsive shoppers.

Signs you May be a Shopaholic

If you’re worried that you may be a compulsive shopper, or if you’re concerned about a friend or family member, there are warning signs. If you notice too many of the following red flags, it may be time to seek help.

  • You shop when you feel tired, sad, lonely, anxious, bored or angry.

  • You frequently spend more than you can afford.

  • You feel happy while you’re shopping, but you later feel so guilty and/or sad that you shop more to relieve the feelings.

  • Relationships have been damaged by your excessive shopping.

  • Your credit cards are maxed out, or you continually open new credit accounts.

  • You have a closet full of unopened packages or brand new things with tags still attached.

  • You frequently buy things you don’t need or that you didn’t intend to buy.

  • You feel anxious when you miss a regular shopping trip.

  • You shop in secret or lie about your shopping habits or the costs of purchases.

  • You know you’re shopping too much and that you need to reduce your spending, but you’re unable to stop, in spite of the many negative consequences.

How to Get Control of your Compulsive Shopping Habit

Take a deep breath when you feel compelled to shop. Ask yourself if you really need to shop and how you will pay for your purchases.

If your shopping is unmanageable, seek treatment. Counseling techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you determine triggers and find more constructive ways to cope with negative emotions.

Consider drug and alcohol treatment or rehab if you’re also struggling with a substance abuse problem. Addiction treatment can help you with disorders, as well as with underlying problems with anxiety, depression or other issues.

Some people find that 12-Step groups such as Spenders Anonymous or Debtors Anonymous are helpful. Others seek advice from a financial advisor or take money management classes.

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