We all know somebody who just loves to shop and terms like “shopaholic” and “retail therapy” have become commonplace. However, shopping addiction is a real and harmful condition which can be difficult to spot and recover from. Also known as compulsive buying disorder or oniomania, shopping addiction can cause just as much damage as any other addiction and can leave individuals in a deep financial hole. While shopping addiction can feel like an inescapable condition, there is effective treatment and support available that can help you break free.
What is shopping addiction?
Shopping addiction is an excessive impulse to buy items and spend money regardless of whether you need them or can afford the purchases. It is a form of behavioural addiction which means that it shares many characteristics with substance dependency on drugs and alcohol such as cravings and the need to indulge in the behaviour despite negative consequences.
People who are addicted to shopping will often experience a rush or high when buying something new but this high is only short-lived. This can lead to a cycle of buying more and more items that are not necessary in order to experience the same level of pleasure. Eventually, what started as an innocent hobby can lead to a dependence where you experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety when unable to shop.
What causes shopping addiction?
There are a number of factors which can potentially lead to the development of shopping addiction. These include:
- Low self-esteem – People with low self-esteem may use shopping as a way to try and boost their confidence by buying items they believe will make them more attractive or accepted. Ultimately, most people find that material possessions cannot make them happier in the long term.
- Stress – Shopping can temporarily distract people from difficult emotions, giving them a brief respite from anxiety or depression. As the financial and emotional consequences of shopping addiction become more apparent, however, the individual may be left feeling worse than before.
- Social pressure – Seeing friends and family members shopping can trigger the desire to buy something in order to “keep up” or fit in. It can also be fuelled by the idea that money and possessions equal success and status.
- Persuasive marketing tactics – Companies have become more sophisticated in their ability to encourage people to buy items through clever marketing and advertising campaigns. This can be particularly difficult to resist for people with a shopping addiction.
- Genetics – A predisposition to addiction, in general, can mean that individuals may be more susceptible to developing shopping addiction.
- Underlying mental health disorders – Shopping addiction can be both a symptom and a trigger of underlying mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some people may use shopping to try and escape from the associated feelings and thoughts these conditions cause but this will only provide temporary relief and won’t address the underlying issues.
Shopping addiction in the UK
Estimates place the number of people addicted to shopping in the UK at between 8 and 16% of the population. Of these, it is thought that up to 90% of compulsive shoppers are women which may be due to factors such as societal pressure and overt marketing tactics. In recent years, internet shopping has exploded, with the majority of compulsive shoppers opting to purchase items online. In the UK, for example, 30% of all retail purchases in 2021 were made online which is double that compared to ten years ago. The ease and convenience of online shopping mean that it is now easier than ever to give in to impulsive buying behaviour which can ultimately result in shopping addiction.
The negative effects of shopping addiction
Shopping addiction can affect every aspect of your life. It can have a serious impact on your finances with large amounts of money being spent on items which may not even be necessary. It can also put a strain on relationships as you become more and more obsessed with shopping and neglect your loved ones or lie to them about it.
Compulsive shopping can be detrimental to your health as you may prioritise shopping over basic needs like food and sleep. This can lead to dramatic changes in weight, exhaustion from overexertion and an overall decline in well-being.
As shopping addiction can be both a trigger and symptom of underlying mental health issues, these can also be exacerbated by the condition. People with a shopping addiction may be at an increased risk of depression, anxiety, insomnia and even suicidal thoughts, made worse by the financial, emotional and health consequences caused by compulsive buying.
Am I addicted to shopping?
As shopping is such a normal, everyday part of life, recognising that you have a shopping addiction to it can be difficult. To help you identify the signs of shopping addiction so you can seek help as soon as possible, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do I feel a compulsive urge to spend money or go shopping even though I don’t need anything or I can’t afford it?
- Has my shopping caused financial issues or put me in debt?
- Do I regularly buy things which I only use once or never use?
- Do I feel guilty or ashamed about my shopping habits?
- Do I lie to family and friends about how much money I spend?
- Am I constantly preoccupied with thoughts about shopping which affect my ability to focus on other activities?
- Do I experience withdrawal symptoms like agitation and restlessness when I don’t shop?
If you answer yes to some or all of these questions, it may be time to seek help for a possible shopping addiction. The sooner you get started, the better your chances of recovery and moving on to a healthier life.
How to help a loved one with a shopping addiction
Identifying the signs and symptoms of shopping addiction in a loved one can also be very difficult as their condition will likely cause them to deny there is an issue or hide their spending behaviour. Here are some warning signs to look out for if you think a friend or family member may have a shopping addiction:
- Spending a lot of time shopping online
- Borrowing money from you and others to fund their shopping habits
- Hiding items from you or lying about how much something costs
- Displaying mood swings when talking about shopping or finances
- Being distant or missing engagements regularly to go shopping
- Being frequently tired, exhausted or unwell due to overexertion from shopping sprees
If you have noticed any of these symptoms of shopping addiction in someone you care about, it may be time to approach them and start a conversation about their shopping habits. It is very important that you listen to them without judgement and try to encourage them to seek help.
It is also crucial that you don’t enable your loved one’s shopping addiction. This means setting boundaries and not giving them money or taking them to the shops for items they don’t need. It also means not lying or covering up for them when it comes to their spending. While it may be hard, tough love may be what is needed to help your loved one towards recovery.
How is shopping addiction treated?
Shopping addiction rehab…
Shopping rehab helps you to identify the triggers and psychological causes of your shopping addiction and develop healthy strategies to cope with them. This is best done in an inpatient setting because it will take you out of your normal environment, allowing you to focus entirely on your recovery with 24/7 guidance and support. At Recovery Lodge, we offer a number of different length shopping addiction rehab programmes to fit every schedule so that as many people as possible can get the help they need.
Our shopping rehab programmes involve a range of therapies and holistic treatment approaches including:
- Individual and group counselling sessions
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)
- Motivational interviewing (MI)
- Art therapy
- Yoga therapy
- Relapse prevention planning
Shopping addiction aftercare…
After completing your shopping rehab programme, it is essential to have a structured aftercare programme in place to help you maintain your recovery. At Recovery Lighthouse, this consists of ongoing weekly group therapy sessions which are free for all our clients for one year. These sessions will provide continuous guidance, support, and accountability to help you stay on track with your recovery goals and help you through difficult moments.
What to do next
If you think that you or a loved one has a shopping addiction, it is important to seek help and support as soon as possible. Recovery Lighthouse can provide you with the help, guidance and support that you need throughout your stay in shopping rehab and beyond.