Compulsive Shopping Disorder

There is a dark side to the consumerism of Christmas. Our consumer culture has transformed the December holiday season into a season of shopping.   For many, shopping and spending money are a form of self-medication for anxiety, depression and loneliness that are brought on by the holidays.  People who are extreme shoppers and who spend themselves into debt may be suffering from a form of addiction known as compulsive shopping disorder.  This disorder is similar to other types of impulse control disorders which also include overeating and gambling.

What is Compulsive Shopping?

Compulsive shopping is recognized by psychologists as a real disorder, but it has not received the same attention as other types of compulsive behavior.  Although it is prevalent in December, it can occur anytime during the year when a person feels overwhelmed by emotion and turns to shopping.  People who are compulsive shoppers believe that shopping will make them feel better.  During binge shopping episodes, they may experience euphoria when they first make a purchase but will later experience a crash when they realize that their behavior is increasing their debt.    Compulsive shopping can also provide a sense of control for people who feel that life is chaotic.

A 2006 study conducted at Stanford University found that about 6% of women and 5.5% of men are affected by compulsive shopping.  According to New York psychologist April Benson, author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop, a large number of compulsive shoppers eventually become hoarders (another compulsive behavior), while others discard items they already own after buying new ones.

There is no definite line between an enjoyment of shopping and compulsive shopping, but when spending money becomes a way of dealing with negative emotions and causes problems with your job, relationships and finances, then shopping may have become an addiction.  Many compulsive shoppers will continue to spend money even when they no longer can pay for basic necessities.  They are often in denial about their problem and may even experience “black outs” that cause them to forget making purchases.

Tips for Controlling Binge Shopping

  • Stick to a shopping list
  • Shop with a friend who will remind you not to overspend
  • Pay for purchases with cash rather than credit cards
  • Seek financial counseling for credit card debt
  • Put aside credit cards for emergency use only
  • Avoid catalogs, home shopping channels and Internet shopping
  • When the urge to shop strikes, take a walk or engage in some other form of exercise
  • When shopping at discount warehouse stores, only buy what you came for
  • Wait 24 hours before buying non-essential items that you see while shopping

Treatment for Compulsive Shopping Disorder

People whose quality of life is compromised by shopping should seek professional counseling or join a self-help group for treatment of the problem.  Compulsive shopping often co-occurs with other addictive behaviors such as alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders or gambling.  For successful treatment of compulsive shopping, all co-occurring disorders should be addressed at the same time.  Our treatment center for women does address compulsive shopping  -but only when the primary addiction is a chemical dependency.  We can make a great referral to a resource near you so do not hesitate to contact us for assistance.

Recovering from substance use disorders is a challenging journey that feels more doable in an environment that tends to each individual’s complex needs and strengths. Our goal is to foster a treatment experience that is built on compassion, hope, and caring, and fueled by excellence in the provision of evidence-based and trauma-informed care.

– - Anonymous