Addiction can be defined in simple terms as a state of being dependent on a habit to such an extent that it causes serious psychological and physical problems. A person does not choose to be an addict. One does not wake up and say ‘let me become addicted to drugs, alcohol, etc. Addiction is rather a symptom of deeper issues such as depression and loneliness and can manifest itself in various forms such as substance abuse, addiction to gadgets, shopping, etc.
Shopping addiction is a type of addiction that involves a pattern of compulsive and repetitive buying behavior that is almost unstoppable and leads to harmful consequences. The person afflicted with this condition is dubbed as a ‘shopaholic’.
Compulsive shopping impacts both men and women almost equally, contrary to conventional view that it is predominantly a ‘woman’s disease.’ It is just that men are more reluctant to admit that they have an addiction problem. Addiction is also breaking into new boundaries in the progressive, technological era of today. There is an alarming new trend of young shopaholics, fuelled by the internet and access to credit cards at an early age. Moreover, there is the craze among teenagers to shop and tell, whereby they buy as much as is affordable and post a video of the purchases in what is called a ‘haul video.’
Buying clothes, shoes and stuff such as hair clippers is understandable as these are needed for everyday use. But when shopping become more of a recreational activity and the things purchased are disproportionate to actual needs, it should set alarm bells ringing.
The addictive potential of shopping is a result of many social and cultural factors. The easy availability of credit and increasing consumerism are creating a mindset of buying on credit or ‘buy now and pay later.’ Add to that, the spread of internet and the resultant growth in on-line shopping has made buying easier from the comfortable confines of the home. Shopping addiction should not be ignored as the consequences can financially, socially and emotionally disastrous, just like any other addiction.
According to a study conducted by Hannover Medical School in Germany and published in the American Journal on Addictions, an estimated 6-7% of adults in USA exhibit some trace of compulsive buying behavior. According to the US National Library of Medicine, more than 5% of Americans are afflicted by compulsive buying disorder.
It is important to distinguish between shopping spree and shopping addiction. A shopping spree is a one-time or an occasional trip surrounding a personal milestone or a festival. Shopping addiction or compulsive buying disorder would come into play when the amount of time spent in planning and the actual shopping interferes with day-to-day life. If your shopping has become a routine and is out of control, you probably have an addiction.
There are a number of red flags that would indicate that a loved one has a shopping disorder. Compulsive shoppers regularly spend beyond their means and justify spending higher than the planned amount. They can’t stop spending as their shopping habit has gone out of hand. Buying things on sale merely because they’re on sale is an important trait of a compulsive shopper.
There is a psychological component to compulsive shopping behavior. People with such a disposition experience excitement during their shopping exercise and use shopping as a tool to replace feelings of sadness and anger. Some people shop to feel better about themselves, while others do so to overcome feelings of insecurity, guilt, anxiety and depression.
Compulsive shopping brings about momentary happiness and power, followed by a period of remorse and guilt. This, in turn, drives the spender into a vicious cycle of buying again to re-gain the emotional high of old. Compulsive shopping also results in family, work and financial woes. Research has shown that many compulsive shoppers also suffer from mood disorders, substance abuse and eating disorders. And, as with any other addiction, they become dependent on their addictive behavior to relieve distress and discomfort.
….And the Treatment
The first step towards changing addictive behavior is recognizing the signs of an addiction and admitting that there is a problem. The compulsive shopper should attempt to re-wire the self through a process of self-awareness, analyzing the motives behind his behavior and critically assessing the need for any shopping trip.
There are healthier alternatives to shopping. Instead of using shopping as a psychological crutch to overcome feeling of inadequacy or despondency, one can engage in creative hobbies and have more social interactions.
There is no conclusive medical evidence about the efficacy of drugs to treat shopping addictions. However, many shopaholics have taken recourse to anti-anxiety and other anti-depressant medications. If the shopping addiction is connected with substance abuse, the only remedy is to seek expert help.
There are many therapies that facilitate behavioral modification and cognitive behavioral therapy is among the most popular approaches. It involves a one-to-one session between a single patient and a trained therapist, held at regular intervals. Since this therapy is non-invasive and bereft of any drugs, the patient is able to exercise greater control over the treatment procedure. Credit counseling can help in dealing with financial problems that shopping addiction may have left in its trail.
A parent or adult helping a teenager out of shopping should first get the child to acknowledge the problem and then re-channelize his energies to non-shopping activities such as exercising, jogging, reading and music. Spiritual support groups are also useful in dealing with an addiction to shopping.
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