Learn / The Real Value of Recovery From Shopping Addiction
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Compulsive shopping is not a moral failing. In fact, biological, psychological, and social factors can all lead to shopping addiction.
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.
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.
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.
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
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/.
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