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Spending Addiction: Shopaholics Can Spend Until They Burn

answered 10:19 PM EST, Tue April 10, 2012
anonymous anonymous
I am not very happy with my life right now. I feel like most of my day is dealing with frustrations. I am a pretty anxious person and I have a hard time making friends or other close relationships. I guess I am just not feeling very good with my life. I also have serious financial problems because the only way I know how to make myself feel ok is to go out and buy something. I never go out and buy big things that might actually make me happy, like a new phone or a vacation or things like that I just go out and buy some worthless stuff that I don’t even need, all the time. Mostly I buy stuff that is consumable or disposable in some way. It’s not the stuff that makes me feel better, just the going to the store and spending some money that lifts my mood for a few minutes. I know it is crazy to act like I do and I am going to get evicted from my apartment unless I can stop wasting all my money buying worthless stuff. I tell myself I won’t do it again but it seems to be something I can’t stop myself from doing. Especially when ever I have some free time. It is OK when I am at work but when I am walking home after work or on lunch break I will always buy stuff, everyday. I am too embarrassed to tell my family about my financial problems. I do not know what to do. I think I have an addiction to spending money.

Delisted Expert Says...

You have made an important step in your recovery. First, you have identified the problem and the exact pattern of the problem. You know when it is NOT a problem and when it is. For example, you don’t need to plan on how to manage yourself when you are at work. You may need a plan to manage yourself with you are on breaks, at lunch, or have unstructured or free time. I am impressed that you recognize that you are generally anxious and struggle to establish, perhaps maintain, social relationships. To offset these uncomfortable, undesirable feelings you exercise a behavior which (1) pulls you out of the anxiety and social isolation, and (2) provides you with some euphoria by masking the inner pain you have reported. From your description, you are managing your anxiety and lack of social support by self-soothing behavior; i.e. spending money you don’t have in a repetitious way. However, by your description, you are progressing in the shopping behavior to the point where it is threatening your financial well-being and home. The difference between an undesirable habit and an addiction is “loss of control.” Only you know if you have lost control over your spending or not. If you have lost control, your assessment of your current situation is accurate. If you would like to answer some questions about whether or not you are a spending addict or would like more information about this addiction, please go to http://moonviewsanctuary.com/addiction-treatment/spending-addiction-therapy.html

Next, let’s define what shopping addiction is. Professor Ruth Engs, RN, EdD, College of Applied Health Sciences, at Indiana University, defines shopping addiction, or compulsive shopping, as: 

“ … an uncontrollable need to overspend in order to compensate for feelings of depression or anxiety, or to boost self-esteem. Shopaholics generally tend to spend well beyond their means. Often the urge to shop is a means of coping with other issues or a means of relieving stress. In that sense, shopping addiction shares has some things in common with alcoholism, compulsive gambling and overeating.”

Some ideas which have helped prevent shopping binges are:

  1. Pay for purchases by cash, check, and debit card.
  2. Make a shopping list and only buy what is on the list.
  3. Destroy all credit cards except one to be used for emergency only.
  4. Avoid discount warehouses. Allocate only a certain amount of cash to be spent if you do visit one.
  5. "Window shop" only after stores have closed. If you do "look" during the day, leave your wallet at home.
  6. Avoid phoning in catalog orders and don't watch TV shopping channels.
  7. If you're traveling to visit friends or relatives, have your gifts wrapped and call the project finished; people tend to make more extraneous purchases when they shop outside their own communities.
  8. Take a walk or exercise when the urge to shop comes on and take no money or credit/debit cards.
  9. If you feel out of control, you probably are. Seek addiction counseling or a support group such as Debtors Anonymous: http://debtorsanonymous.org/.
  10. Don’t keep secrets about your shopping binges. Tell someone you trust and ask for their support in changing this behavior.

Often to regain control over any addiction requires professional intervention or treatment. For more information about this, go to these links:

My hope is that you recognize that this is a more common problem than might be realized and there is help. If I can be of any further assistance to you, please let me know.

All the Best,

John W. O’Neal, Ed.S, MSW, MA, LPC, NCC

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Page last updated Apr 11, 2012

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