The Stages of Shopping Addiction

Some people giggle at the label "shopping addict"; they think it’s crazy; the person should ‘just stop shopping’. If it were that easy, it would not be a real addiction and it is. Shopping for most of us means running to the mall for a few things and then we leave. Shopping addicts (sometimes called shopaholics) don’t behave that way. 

Some literally shop until they drop! Others shop until they have reached the limit on every single credit card they own. Often, they buy things they don’t need or necessarily want. Like any other addiction, it’s the "feeling" they get from shopping they are after. People who engage in this destructive and sometimes financially ruinous behavior do so because they get a "rush" or "high" from the experience.

When shopping and spending are out of control the addict continues to shop – no matter what the consequences. Just like addicts of drugs or alcohol, they may lose their financial stability, homes, relationships and jobs because of their compulsive behavior. A shopping addict may exhibit some, many or all of the following symptoms:

  • Disregard for or inability to stay within the budget – Even when given a set budget which they agree they will adhere to, they overspend time and time again. This act alone can have serious consequences on a relationship or family.
  • Inability to buy small amounts – of anything!  The addict can go to the store with a list of three items, intending to buy only those items.  They are unable to do so and leave with many more items instead. Overspending can even happen at the grocery store or pharmacy; anywhere things can be purchased.
  • Hiding purchases because of the financial damage already inflected upon the household. 
    Often, addicts want to avoid arguments or hide things because they feel ashamed.
  • Consumed with guilt, addicts may return purchases. However, once in the shopping environment – even feeling guilt and shame – they go shopping again.

As with alcohol or drug addiction, shopping addiction often results in spiritual, emotional and moral bankruptcy. Once addicts have no more cash, credit cards or any other way to purchase items, they may resort to stealing or shoplifting. They have to get their "high" no matter what it takes. That high becomes more important than anything else in their life, including family, friends, job and church.

If you think you could be a shopping addict, answer the following questions honestly:

  • Do you shop as a result of feeling sad, depressed or lonely?
  • Do you shop because you’re happy, feeling great and having fun?
  • Do you often argue with others about your shopping habits?
  • Do you feel euphoric when you make a purchase?
  • Do you lie about what you have bought and how much money you have spent?
  • Do you feel guilty and embarrassed after a shopping spree?
  • Do you obsess about shopping … when can you go next, what you will buy?

If you answered "yes" to more than one or two of these questions, you might be a shopping addict.
Do not despair, because there are many sources of help available to you. Debtors Anonymous is a twelve-step program which has worked very well for many addicted shoppers. Treatment programs are also available or you may want to work one-on-one with a psychologist who specializes in addictive behaviors. Whichever path you choose, you can expect to work hard, recover and get your life back.