What constitutes compulsive shopping?

Compulsive shoppers have tremendous difficulty controlling their spending habits even when the behavior causes serious financial or relational problems. “Compulsive shopping” is defined as an impulse control disorder. It’s driven in part by many of the same socio-economic factors that drive binge eating or problem gambling. Big businesses orient the products they market, and how they market them, around the consumer need for instant gratification–a need that fuels the formation of habits. With credit so easily available and the whole consumer market accessible on our cell phones, the temptation to splurge regularly can be too alluring for some people to resist.

What are the warning signs?

Compulsive shoppers fall into the same vicious cycle of self-destruction and excuse-making that characterizes drug addicts. When they feel upset, disappointed, angry, scared,  or overwhelmed, these individuals–most of them–don’t use drugs or drink alcohol: they shop. They don’t conceal bottles, they conceal bank statements. For most compulsive shoppers, the main vice is the credit card. They purchase items on credit that they wouldn’t dare buy with cash. This allows for some cognitive dissonance. The shame, embarrassment, and confusion hit quickly anyway, but that initial euphoria they get from spending is enough to keep compulsive shoppers coming back. When they don’t have a credit card, compulsive shoppers feel lost. They think excessively about money and spend huge amounts of time juggling bills to accommodate their colossal spending habits.

What are the effects?

Again, the habit itself is associated with a need for instant gratification. It’s a need that grows stronger every time we feed it. Each time we push long-term responsibility into the back of our minds, we push it a little further.

As debt racks up and savings deplete, shopping addicts experience harder and harder comedowns. All that guilt and shame only triggers the urge to spend more and more, just to keep those feelings at bay. Many compulsive shoppers also suffer from mood disorders, eating disorders, and substance addiction disorders—most of which play off the same cycle of relief and discomfort.

How can I get help?

For compulsive shoppers, rock bottom occurs when debt becomes so large that drastic lifestyle changes become absolutely necessary. The good news is that you don’t have to get to that point to get help. Help is available now. Firstly, determine the scope of the problem. Consult the warning signs listed above to see how many apply to you. Contact a Certified Addictions Counselor for a confidential assessment of your shopping habits.