I knew I had a shopping addiction problem right after I turned 21. I had just lost my second car to repossession and had a cell phone bill of close to a thousand dollars. Still, I was so excited to start my new job at Macy's as a makeup artist. I didn't care about my debt collectors. I had moved on because I now had a company credit card, and I could look worthy on the outside since I didn't feel it inside.
Fast forward to today. As of the time I'm writing this, I am happy to say my shopping addiction has been under control since my late twenties. I had an undiagnosed mood disorder, which led to manic spending. But with therapy and meds, I've been able to take my life back.
Since addiction is personal and can look different for everyone, it's hard to know if you have a problem. So in this article, I'll go over what shopping addiction is, how to identify it, and how you can tackle it.
What is a shopping addiction?
According to addictions.com, "A shopping addiction is a behavioral addiction in which a person shops compulsively to relieve distressing negative emotions like anxiety, pain, and sadness." Addiction of any type is unhealthy, but a shopping addiction can be just as destructive as an addiction to a substance.
You can lose friends, family, your career, and your future. A shopping addict can also lose control of their mental and emotional well-being, which may cause further issues such as depression and even attempted suicide. That being said, here are some of the warning signs to see if you or a loved one may be at risk.
Signs you have a shopping addiction
You hide purchases
It's common for shopaholics to hide purchases they do not want anyone to find or see for fear of shame or embarrassment. When items are delivered, or brought into the home, purposely when no one will be there, it's a warning sign.
You go shopping in secret or when others won't notice
There is a difference between shopping on your lunch break because it's convenient versus shopping at times no one will see. When you constantly go shopping at times when others wont notice, it's likely because you have a shopping addiction. You don't want another lecture or another comment about what you've bought or how much you are spending.
You avoid looking at your financial statements
Shopaholics will avoid looking at their finances due to embarrassment or fear of the unknown. If you keep your head buried in the sand, it's hard to grasp the severity of your overall financial picture. Taking the approach of "what you don't know can't hurt you" actually can if left unaddressed over time.
You have opened multiple credit cards to support your addiction with no means to pay them back
Do you apply for numerous store credit cards for a "discount," when in reality it's to help fund your shopping habit? What about credit cards in general? Open credit cards are an essential factor in your overall credit score. Still, if you are opening and then maxing out multiple cards, you are hurting yourself in the long run.
Stress causes you to shop
Retail therapy is called retail therapy for a reason. Many shopaholics turn to shop after a bad day or fight with a loved one for an instant pick me up. But as it relates to shopping addictions, retail therapy can spiral out of control.
Loved ones have questioned your spending habits
Speaking of loved ones, have any question your spending habits? My ex-boyfriend refused to lend me money to pay for tuition after discovering my financial aid needed additional time to process. His reasoning behind this was he had no idea where my money was going. I didn't either until I started to track my spending.
You get a high, then an immediate low
Addiction is powerful because of the way the human brain operates. The basal ganglia section of your brain serves as your reward system. Your reward system can be satisfied with an event you find pleasurable or a habit you create.
When your basal ganglia is overstimulated, this will cause the feeling known as a "high." With repeated overstimulation, your brain will rewire itself to being satisfied this way. When not happy, you feel low. It's because of this that you repeatedly seek out the event or habit.
You are not excited after you've made purchases
After the high described above goes away, an addict will feel low until they can receive satisfaction again. An example of a low could be losing excitement or joy after purchase. Feeling down is experienced even if a purchase is a highly desired item by others.
You have a lot of items with tags or things you've forgotten about
When I was in high school, one of my favorite books was "Confessions of a Shopaholic" by Sophie Kinsella. The main character, Becky Bloomwood, worked as a financial columnist for a newspaper but had a closet packed to the brim with stuff she had forgotten, all with tags. While I think one or two items with tags are still personally okay, it's not okay to have multiples. Looking back, this may have been some foreshadowing, but I digress.
You become irritable if you can't go shopping
A life of addiction means always looking for the next high or a way to sustain it. Suppose you are feeling anxious, angry, or frustrated because you can not make purchases. In that case, this is your addiction needing a "hit" to get high again.
You often buy items you had no intention of buying
A random candle in a cart may not seem destructive, but if you have a history of purchasing candles with no intended use or need, this can add up. You can substitute anything for the candle I just described.
Critical steps to dealing with a shopping addiction
If you do have a shopping addiction, you can get help and recover. Note, the following steps may help you but do not take the place of professional help if you need it.
Admit to yourself you have a shopping addiction, and it's okay
The biggest issue many addicts and their loved ones face is admitting there is even a problem, and problems are okay. Even in the description above, I mentioned that maybe an extra item in the cart isn't a big deal.
And perhaps it isn't a big deal to some people, but that doesn't mean it's not a problem to a person suffering from an addiction. One item, one cigarette, or one drink can launch someone into a spiral if they aren't careful. That's why addiction is so good at making people seem powerless.
Tell your support network that you trust
After you have concluded you have a shopping addiction, tell a loved one you can trust. A support network can include a friend, a family member, a therapist, or even a clergy member. Sharing you have an addiction may feel like a mixed bag.
Some may not sympathize with you because they think you have brought it upon yourself, and others may feel triggered themselves. Right now, it would be best if you surrounded yourself with people who will be gentle while not enabling you.
Figure out your triggers and healthy coping mechanisms
Until I received treatment for my mood disorder, I was not able to enter recovery. While a mood disorder may not be why you try to shop when times get hard, you will need to figure out what triggers you. Keep track in a notebook or app when you feel the need to shop and write down what was going on when you thought it.
Once you figure out a pattern of things that trigger you, you will be able to put healthy coping mechanisms in place. For instance, instead of turning to Amazon after a fight with your spouse, you may call your support network or try meditating.
Put boundaries in place around shopping
Shopping is unavoidable for a majority of people, myself included. But you CAN put boundaries in place to help with your addiction. Utilize curbside pickup and purchase only items that are needed. Ask your spouse or friend to stop by the store on their way over. Order your prescriptions at an actual pharmacy instead of a box store. Get pet supplies at the vet's office.
I have a friend who only allots so much money into a spending account, and once it's gone, it's gone. The rest of her funds are deposited into an account at a credit union that she can only access in person. We have an entire list of proven strategies to help you put shopping boundaries in place here at Clever Girl Finance.
You can recover from a shopping addiction
At the end of the day, you are not alone. You are loved and supported, even if it may not feel like it yet. Lean on supportive family members. Reach out to support groups if you need additional help or support. You can find a support group for almost anything online. And if necessary, seek professional help. With intention and focus, you can tackle and overcome a shopping addiction.