Shopping Addiciton

The other day a stately woman called me, worried about her husband who had gone down the rabbit hole of alcohol. It’s not surprising that other people in this owner/executive’s life turned a blind eye to his drinking problem, but she was determined to help her husband get the bespoke treatment he needed.

We know alcohol abuse affects more than just the abuser. While delving into this woman’s life and the effects of her husband’s alcohol abuse, we discovered that shopping had become a self-soothing mechanism for her.

She explained that she loved to shop, and she had a multitude of charge cards, which she would often use for the same purchase. Sometimes she would add cash in the mix so that the accountants would not know how much she did t were. As far as buying things, she loved to shop. With COVID, online shopping for almost anything increased, and she said the great thing about Amazon was they never itemized anything on a bill. While the boxes kept coming, one never knew. She was a great shopper and her favorite stores always sent her things on approval. It was like Christmas every day, with more and more eye candy coming. And then her stylist brought her more. Her closets were popping, and it was hard to keep track of all the purchases. Yet she was lonely and despondent.

Like many who experience a shopping addiction 

  1. She shopped compulsively 
  2. She shopped to alleviate feelings of emptiness – the buy is like a dopamine high 
  3. She shopped in spite of negative financial consequences – there are times when she could not pay or her savings had to be tapped
  4. She made promises to stop shopping, put herself on a budget, and then she gave in to the compulsion—again. This cycle left her feeling ashamed and guilty about her inability to stop buying things 

If you relate to this behavior, know that you are not alone. It is estimated that approximately 5 -10 percent of all Americans are compulsive shoppers. 

With social media marketing, targeted ads and influencers undulating before our eyes, seducing us to buy, to one-up one another, this number will no doubt increase. 

Yet there are steps you can take.

  • Follow the 24 hour rule –
    If you see that pair of shoes you must have – hold on and wait 24 hours before you purchase. By doing so, you go through a whole day of your life with all the emotions and experiences one has. It is no longer an impulse buy. If you wait 24 hours, you can use better judgment to decide whether you need or not . 
  • Don’t buy, just browse-
    Psychologist Mark Travers, who writes for Forbes magazine, in a discussion about dopamine, said, “As we know, dopamine is the feel good chemical that is released in our brains during pleasurable activities, eating, sex, and yes, shopping.” However, one classic study in brain research suggests that dopamine has more to do with seeking out rewards rather than the actual satisfaction of doing the thing.

    This means browsing can give as much pleasure as making a purchase. Stanford neuroscientist, Robert Sapolsky, suggests the brain gets its dopamine hits from the anticipation of the reward rather than the reward itself. This can explain why window shopping is so attractive. Think of how windows are decorated in anticipation of holidays  
  • Plan to browse
    Set aside a few hours a week just to browse (maybe even go shopping in your super crowded closet.) In this way, you can enjoy the positive aspects of shopping while avoiding negative consequences 

Spend Wisely

Trendy is just that–trendy. Buying the “latest and greatest” to keep up isn’t the wisest course of action. Buy things that can have lasting value and meaning for you. A good suit, a watch or a piece of jewelry isn’t going anywhere. A study in 2014 found that buying things that last gives you a sense of control, so investing in yourself makes sense. This, in turn, can decrease your reliance on more to feel happiness 

Also, save up for purchases. Put those credit cards away and use only debit cards as it saves you from spending money you don’t have.

Engaging in problematic behaviors, such as shopping, doesn’t always mean you have a process addiction. however it is smart to check out if you believe that your behavior is repetitive, you feel remorseful and you keep doing it over and over again. Talking to a licensed mental health professional, like myself, who is knowledgeable in addictive behaviors can be very helpful.

And the woman who called about her husband? They both got the help they needed. She worked with a coach and a behavioral health clinician who helped her unpack and alter her self soothing mechanisms while her husband did the same in residential treatment. together, they engaged in couples’ work and their own self-help groups.

If you or someone you love has a shopping addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out.