Shopping Addiction

A shopping addict feels unable to control their desire to buy items regardless of need or financial means, and who may obtain a "rush" from the experience.

As the buying process is repeated, their brain releases the pleasure/reward chemicals - endorphins and dopamine. As with most compulsive alcohol and drug abusers, over time, the individual becomes addicted to shopping to repeat the "high." The addiction is to repeat the feelings of euphoria felt not to possess the items themselves.

Shopping addiction is considered to be the most socially acceptable – and socially reinforced – of the impulse control disorders and is often viewed as only being a problem when an individual cannot stop.

Underlying causes

There are usually a number of underlying causes of an addiction to shopping, As with many other types of addicts, shopaholics use the experience as a 'coping mechanism' to deal with depression or intense emotions, such as anger or loneliness.

There are several different types of shopaholics:
  • Compulsive shopaholics - who shop when they are feeling emotional distress
  • Bargain lovers - who purchase items they don't need because they are on sale
  • Dissatisfied shopaholics - who are always shopping for the perfect item
  • Bulimic shoppers - who get caught in a vicious cycle of buying and returning
  • Collectors - who don't feel complete unless they have one item in each colour or every piece of a set
  • Power shopaholics - who want the image of being a big spender and love flashy items

Symptoms and Warning Signs

Short-term effects for a shopping addict are always likely to be a feeling of elation and enhanced sense of self. However, the positive boost is often mixed with anxiety or guilt just underneath the surface, which leads to a vicious circle of repeat shopping cycles.

Long-term effects can vary widely and by intensity. Many shopping addicts face deepening financial problems, and they may become overwhelmed with debt. Personal relationships can often suffer, which can lead to more serious consequences for family and working life.

Emotional signs of a serious shopping addiction problem:
  • Feeling angry, depressed, anxious, or lonely triggers shopping or spending money
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed after a spending spree
  • Feeling lost or going into withdrawal without credit cards
  • Buying items on credit, rather than with cash
  • Describing spending as a 'rush' or a feeling of 'euphoria'
  • Arguing over shopping habits
  • Spending more money than can be afforded
  • Lying about how much money was spent
  • Thinking obsessively about money
  • Not paying essential bills or accounts to have money for a spending spree
  • Losing all control of shopping behaviour

As the drug reduces the user's ability to feel pain, serious injury may go unnoticed and untreated. High doses, especially when taken with other substances like alcohol or opiates, can dangerously affect breathing, heart function, and cause loss of consciousness.

Physical symptoms include:
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Numbness or paralysis of the muscles
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Breathing problems
  • Bladder problems

Secret addiction

Shopping addicts can be intensely secretive and hide evidence of purchases, such as receipts, credit card bills, shopping bags and the items they bought. Shopaholics may live with a constant fear of being discovered.

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