Learn / The Real Value of Recovery From Shopping Addiction

The Real Value of Recovery From Shopping Addiction

Hannah Friedman
 January 31st, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Has your shopping gone from casual to compulsive? Shopping is such a common way to cope, some people call it “retail therapy.” But it can get out of hand. Shopping can even become an addiction. And when that happens, you may start to rack up debts—and not just financial ones.

In rehab for shopping addiction you can reevaluate why you feel like you need to shop. You’ll learn new coping strategies, change your spending habits and get your life back on track.

Treating Shopping Addiction

In the short term, buying new things can boost your mood. But if your life revolves around shopping, it can get in the way of your other goals. While there’s no standard treatment program for shopping addiction,1 rehabs use a variety of methods to help you manage your symptoms.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

One of the most popular shopping addiction treatments is CBT—especially group CBT. In treatment, you’ll start by identifying why you shop. Then, you’ll learn new financial planning strategies. Patients also practice tolerating difficult feelings. For example, your therapist might help you accept the desire to shop without acting on it. Studies show that CBT is the most effective treatment for shopping addiction.2

Pharmacological Treatments

Some medications can help you manage compulsive buying.1 For example, studies show that antidepressants can support your recovery. Typically, this treatment works best as a long-term solution, instead of a stopgap during rehab. And no medication is right for everyone. Talk to your treatment team about your physical health and your recovery goals to learn more about various options.

12-Step Groups

Groups like Debtors Anonymous and Spenders Anonymous take a 12-Step approach to shopping addiction recovery. Modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, these groups connect you with a community of people on a similar journey. Peers gather to support each other, discuss spending habits, and share coping strategies. These free meetings take place worldwide, and even remotely.

Family and Couples Therapy

Because compulsive buying can cause relationship issues, some shopping addiction programs involve family in your treatment.1 Family and couples therapy provides a space for everyone involved to share their feelings about compulsive shopping. This can improve your relationships in a number of ways. For one thing, it can help your loved ones understand what you’re going through. That makes it easier for them to support your continued recovery. Family therapy can also facilitate communication, helping you repair mutual trust.

Understanding Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction, also called compulsive buying disorder, is a behavioral addiction that includes impulsive and excessive purchasing.3 And, like any addiction, you keep buying things despite negative social, financial, and legal consequences. Shopping becomes more than a way to acquire products you need. You might also use it to boost your self-esteem, cope with stress, and get social approval. Over time, it can become your primary coping mechanism.

Symptoms of Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction is more than just enjoying buying new things.There are a few ways compulsive buying1 stands out from other types of shopping:

  • Preoccupation with shopping
  • Boredom or depression before shopping
  • Guilt or shame after purchasing something
  • Pre-purchase tension that’s only relieved by buying the item you’re fixated on
  • Devoting an excessive amount of time, energy, and money to shopping
  • Shopping in private to avoid being questioned about your behavior
  • Prioritizing the quantity of items you purchase rather than their quality or usefulness

If you have this addiction, you can actually build up a tolerance to shopping.4 Over time, you might have to shop more often or spend more money to feel satisfied. In severe cases, going without shopping can even cause withdrawal symptoms.1

The Impact of Compulsive Shopping

People with shopping addiction keep making new purchases, no matter the consequences. If you notice these effects of compulsive buying,5 you might consider getting treatment:

  • Excessive credit card debt
  • Hoarding
  • Relationship problems due to financial stress or keeping secrets about your spending
  • Legal problems if you start to fund your shopping in illegal ways
  • Inefficiency at work as you spend more time shopping and preparing to shop

Who Does Shopping Addiction Affect?

The most common time people begin compulsively buying is in early adulthood.1 This could be because it’s the first time young people have financial freedom and uncontrolled access to credit cards. And women are more likely to develop shopping addiction.

Up to 1 in 20 people are addicted to shopping.6 And compulsive buying is becoming more prevalent,7 for several reasons. First, credit cards are very easy to access, even for people who already have debt. Also, some cultures consider material wealth to be a sign of a person’s value. And because so much shopping takes place online, it’s easier than ever to buy things impulsively.

The Psychology of Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction is an impulse control spectrum disorder.3 People who compulsively buy typically share some personality traits, like reward-seeking. And it’s common to experience both shopping addiction and other impulse control disorders.

Shopping Addiction and Co-occurring Disorders

Studies show that many people who compulsively shop also have at least one other mental health condition.1 If that’s true for you, you can look for a rehab that treats co-occurring disorders. A few conditions are especially likely to co-occur with shopping addiction:8

Experts are still researching the relationship between these conditions. Shopping addiction may be a symptom, or it may stem from the same root cause as another diagnosis.

What Causes Shopping Addiction?

Compulsive shopping is not a moral failing. In fact, biological, psychological, and social factors can all lead to shopping addiction.

Genetic Factors

Studies indicate that there’s a genetic component to shopping addiction.9 In these areas, data shows 2 primary factors that motivate people to shop compulsively.

First, capitalist society makes shopping easily accessible. A huge variety of different goods are readily available. People may also have more disposable income and more leisure time to use the items they buy.

Second, much of Western culture places high value on material wealth. People judge each other—sometimes harshly—for what and how much they own. As a result, there’s a great deal of pressure to prove your worth by purchasing new things.

A History of Trauma

Surviving childhood trauma can also lead to compulsive shopping.10 Any type of trauma, like physical abuse or neglect, can make shopping addiction more likely. But certain childhood experiences—like emotional abuse and witnessing violence—are especially common among people with shopping addiction.

For some people, shopping is a way to cope7 with the symptoms of their trauma. Focusing on a new purchase can briefly distract you from painful memories by making you feel better in the moment. And making financial decisions—even unsustainable ones—can give you a sense of control.

Shopping as a Coping Mechanism

Even for people without childhood trauma, compulsive buying isn’t really about money.6 Instead, it’s a way to control or cope with stress. That’s why people with shopping addiction are more likely to buy something after experiencing a difficult emotion, like sadness or anger. Instead of accepting that feeling, you might seek the short-term gratification of a purchase in order to avoid emotional pain.

Take Ownership of Your Recovery Journey

Shopping—even sustainable shopping—relates to the idea of value. It might seem like buying things increases your self-worth. But the math isn’t that simple.

There’s so much more to you than what you own.

To learn more about treatment methods and contact centers directly, see our searchable list of rehabs for shopping addiction.

Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod

  1. BLACK, DONALD W. “A Review of Compulsive Buying Disorder.” World Psychiatry, vol. 6, no. 1, Feb. 2007, pp. 14–18. PubMed Central, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1805733/. [] [] [] [] [] [] []
  2. Hague, Ben, et al. “Treatments for Compulsive Buying: A Systematic Review of the Quality, Effectiveness and Progression of the Outcome Evidence.” Journal of Behavioral Addictions, vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 379–94. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.5.2016.064. Accessed 31 Jan. 2023. []
  3. Granero, Roser, et al. “Compulsive Buying Behavior: Clinical Comparison with Other Behavioral Addictions.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 7, June 2016, p. 914. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00914. [] []
  4. Barrett, Claer. ‘The Dopamine Is so High’: The Psychology of Shopping Addiction. 29 Nov. 2022, https://www.ft.com/content/5b4d2fd6-5510-4b0c-aeba-402211d97510. []
  5. ROSE, SUSAN, and ARUN DHANDAYUDHAM. “Towards an Understanding of Internet-Based Problem Shopping Behaviour: The Concept of Online Shopping Addiction and Its Proposed Predictors.” Journal of Behavioral Addictions, vol. 3, no. 2, June 2014, pp. 83–89. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1556/JBA.3.2014.003. []
  6. “Are you addicted to shopping? If you can’t stop, you are.” Optum Life Balance. April 2014. https://www.hrm.oa.pa.gov/workplace-support/seap/Documents/Life%20Balance%20Newsletter/2014-shopping-addiction.pdf [] []
  7. Wilczaki, Andrew Richard, “Understanding compulsive buying: The dimensions and management of addictive shopping” (2006).
    Master’s Theses and Doctoral Dissertations. 186.
    https://commons.emich.edu/theses/186 [] []
  8. Black, Donald W., et al. “Pathological Gambling and Compulsive Buying: Do They Fall within an Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum?” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, vol. 12, no. 2, June 2010, pp. 175–85. PubMed Central, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181956/. []
  9. It often appears in multiple members of the same family. If you have this condition, your relatives are also more likely to experience depression, alcohol addiction, and other mental health issues.

    Social Norms

    Most of the time, shopping addiction appears in Western countries. This hints at a cultural source of compulsive buying. ((BLACK, DONALD W. “A Review of Compulsive Buying Disorder.” World Psychiatry, vol. 6, no. 1, Feb. 2007, pp. 14–18. PubMed Central, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1805733/. []

  10. Sansone, Randy A., et al. “Childhood Trauma and Compulsive Buying.” International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, vol. 17, no. 1, Feb. 2013, pp. 73–76. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.3109/13651501.2011.653379. []

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