Shopping: The Socially Acceptable Addiction

Shopping The Socially Acceptable Addiction

Do you turn to “retail therapy” when you’re feeling down? Do you sometimes regret your purchases? Spend more than you were planning to? You may be suffering from shopping addiction – and it’s more serious and more common than you might think.

As Western consumer culture spreads worldwide and advertising campaigns continue to skyrocket, resisting the urge to splurge seems more difficult and less necessary. We are bombarded with media telling us shopping will make us happy. Shopping is a socially acceptable and encouraged pastime. But when does a love for shopping become out of control?

Although the term ‘shopaholic’ is used lightly, shopping can become a serious addiction. Shopping addicts will continue to shop despite the growing negative consequences of their behaviour such as financial distress, relationship difficulties, and problems at work.

Globalisation and increased credit card lending, especially in Asia, contributes to the spread of an addiction which once only seemed possible in the Western world. Hong Kong based company ShopSimple boasts “ShopSimple: Your Next Shopping Addiction.” Mega malls are popping up around the world. People on holiday flock to shopping centres and markets. Credit card use and debt has reached an all-time high, yet people are still shopping beyond their means in order to have the latest in digital technology, fashion, and home decor.

Are you or a loved one addicted to shopping? These 10 signs adapted from Project Know: Understanding Addiction suggest when a shopping habit turns problematic:

  1. Your closets are full of unopened items and clothing with the price tags attached.
  2. You regularly buy things you don’t need or weren’t intending to purchase.
  3. You have maxed out credit cards from shopping binges.
  4. You shop when you are feeling down or depressed, after an argument, or as a pick me up.
  5. You regret purchases once you get home.
  6. You have arguments with loved ones about your spending habits.
  7. You feel anxious before, during, or after a shopping spree.
  8. You feel a strong urge to shop or buy things.
  9. You hide your purchases and spending from loved ones.
  10. You spend a considerable amount of time thinking about, planning, and going on shopping excursions.

A quick internet search will offer a myriad of self-help ideas to take control of spending. The problem is once shopping has truly become an addiction it affects the brain similarly to drug or alcohol addiction, and other behavioural addictions such as gambling and overeating. Further, a shopping addiction often occurs along with other mental health problems such as depression or anxiety, or along with other addictions. To overcome this may require professional help and even inpatient treatment when shopping has severely compounded all aspects of a person’s life including relationships, work, stability at home, and self-worth.

Compulsive shoppers shop to fill an emotional void. A person may shop to relieve uncomfortable feelings of anxiety, stress, or disappointment. Shopping temporarily gives the person a feeling of relief comparable to a “high.” Then guilt or anxiety about the shopping spree set in and these uncomfortable feelings fuel yet another shopping spree. The fact that shopping is a socially acceptable behaviour may contribute to denial that there is a problem, but the person may well feel out of control and will need some sort of intervention to change their pattern of coping. There is help available, and you or your loved one are not alone if you are suffering from addiction.