What is Shopping Addiction – Is it Harmful?

It is difficult to understand how something as innocuous as shopping could ever become addictive; however, for some people, shopping is an obsession that can end up destroying their life as they know it. If you have ever thought about the question of what is shopping addiction, you should know that it is different from simply liking to shop.

In fact, shopping addiction is a behavioural disorder that can interfere with a person’s ability to live a normal life. When purchases become compulsive and you feel as though you have no control over what you are buying or how much you are spending, you may be on the slippery slope to addiction.

Addiction is a pattern of behaviour that can have a negative impact on a person’s daily life and therefore their overall wellbeing. When you think of it like this, you can easily see how shopping can become an addiction.

How Does Shopping Addiction Manifest?

Not everyone with a shopping addiction acts in the same way. It is not simply a case of going out each day to the shop and making a purchase, although for some this may be the way in which their illness presents.

In fact, when considering the question of what is shopping addiction, it is important to realise that there are different ways in which it can manifest. For example, there are those who compulsively shop when they are feeling distressed or upset. They use shopping to make themselves feel better in the same way that alcoholics or drug addicts would use their substance of choice to make them feel better.

Others are classed as shopaholics who might be striving to buy the perfect item or who want to have the newest gadgets. These individuals want others to think of them as having a lot of money or being important and so they spend excessively in order to present the image they want others to see.

Some people are always on the hunt for a bargain and will buy things that are on sale, even if they do not want or need the item in question. The mere fact that the item is ‘a bargain’ means they must have it.

How Does Shopping Become an Addiction?

Since most people shop to some degree, whether this is just the weekly grocery shop or occasionally going out to buy new clothing items, it can be difficult to comprehend how this can become habit-forming. For many, shopping is a social and fun activity to be enjoyed with family and friends. Yet for others, shopping takes over their life and consumes every waking minute. But how does this happen?

For some individuals, shopping can overstimulate the reward centre in their brain. They will get a huge sense of pleasure when shopping and may even feel that the only time they experience these feelings of pleasure is when they are making a purchase.

It is thought that in some people, the brain’s reward centre can be hijacked by activities designed to give pleasure, such as sex, eating, gambling, taking drugs, drinking alcohol, and even shopping. So as shopping activates the reward centre of the brain in some individuals, the need to recreate these pleasurable feelings means that the person will have a strong urge to shop over and over again in order to be satisfied.

Although shopping methods have evolved over time and now increasingly more people are choosing to shop online, the process is still the same. The act of shopping, regardless of whether it takes place online or in a bricks and mortar store, is the same and involves stages that activate the reward centre of the brain.

Shopping addiction can affect anyone, regardless of age or gender, but research shows that young women are at the highest risk for this type of addiction. As with almost every other addiction, there is evidence to suggest that compulsive shopping is a condition that runs in families. In families where there is a history of substance abuse and mental health problems, the risk is higher.

What are the Signs of a Shopping Addiction?

If you have been thinking about what shopping addiction is and whether you could be affected or not, it is important to consider your shopping habits to see if you fit the profile of a compulsive shopper. There is a difference between liking shopping and having an addiction to it.

For example, if you often feel a strong urge to shop and cannot stop thinking about it until you have satisfied your urge, it could be that you either have a problem or are in danger of developing one.

Perhaps you do spend most of your time shopping or thinking about it. You may even prepare before you shop and think long and hard about the things you are going to buy and how you are going to pay for your purchases. When the time comes to shop, you may feel an intense excitement both before and during the purchase. This may then be followed by a temporary feeling of relief, which might then be followed by feelings of guilt and shame.

If your shopping habits are affecting your life and your overall wellbeing, then it might be the case that you have an addiction. If you feel as though you have no control over your shopping, then you are more than likely in need of some help.

Maybe you have been hiding your purchases from loved ones or you are worried about them finding out how much you have been spending. You may be struggling to pay credit card bills and are worrying about a loved one discovering your secret. If so, what you should know is that things are unlikely to get better unless you reach out for help.

You should also know that what you have is an illness of the brain, but that help is available. There are many who believe that there is no such thing as a shopping addiction, or that it is just a lifestyle choice, but you will know that this is not true. You have no control over your compulsion to shop and it is likely that even when you do not want to or when you know that if you do shop it will cause negative consequences for you and your family, you will have no choice.

Is a Shopping Addiction Harmful?

Although there are no physical symptoms associated with a shopping addiction as such, it is an illness that can have disastrous consequences for those affected. As you might imagine, a shopping addiction requires constant access to funds, so as the illness progresses, a need to spend increasingly more money may develop.

This can leave the affected individual facing mounting bills for credit card purchases or leave them in a position where they have spent their entire wages on impulse buys before meeting their financial commitments or paid their essential bills.

Families frequently face financial difficulty when one member develops a shopping addiction. It is often the case that the addiction is not discovered until a late stage, when credit card companies and other lending institutions are sending letters for overdue payments.

This can all lead to mental health problems such as stress and anxiety as well. Some individuals will try to ease these symptoms by self-medicating with chemical substances like alcohol or drugs, which then leads to even more problems.

So, while there is no immediate physical harm associated with shopping, the knock-on effects can end up being disastrous.

Can You Get Help for a Shopping Addiction?

If a shopping addiction is at the early stages, self-help techniques could work, but for most people, professional therapy will be required. It is all about learning how to develop healthy ways of shopping. It is unlikely that anyone can abstain from shopping for the rest of their life, so it is important that they address the issues that caused the addictive behaviour in the first place.

It could be that you will be treated with a talking therapy known as cognitive behavioural therapy. This type of therapy aims to help you identify the negative thought processes that drive your addictive behaviour. Being able to recognise maladaptive thoughts and behaviours will allow you to challenge them and see them for what they are. You can then learn new coping strategies that will have a positive impact on your behaviour going forward.

If you are interested in learning more about shopping addiction or if you are worried that you may be affected, please get in touch with us here at Middlegate. We can help you by assessing your situation to determine if you need help. If so, we can recommend a suitable treatment provider where you can begin working on taking back control of your life once more. Call today for more information on how we can help you.

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