Compulsive shopping, or shopping addiction, is a very real addiction affecting millions, yet many people take it lightly or deny its existence.    Upwards of 6% of the U.S. adult population shops compulsively, and most of these signs of shopping addictionare women; however, the prevalence is increasing in men, as evidenced by this eye-opening article about the Gucci buying addiction faced by Buzz Bissinger, famous author of Friday Night Lights. Overall, the compulsion tends to manifest in people in their teens or early 20s, rapidly becoming a chronic issue with long-term implications.

At what point does simple splurging become a full blown addiction? Shopping addiction, or compulsive shopping, can be defined by the characteristics of inappropriate, excessive, and out of control spending.  Several key
behaviors are indicative of a shopping as an addictive behavior, including:

 

  • Shopping as a result of feeling lonely, angry, depressed, or anxious
  • Arguments with others about shopping
  • Feelings of anxiety and anger without credit cards or the ability to shop
  • Spending primarily with credit
  • Feelings of euphoria while spending
  • Lying about spending or hiding purchases
  • Thinking obsessively about money and goods
  • Spending a lot of time adjusting bills and accounts to fit in spending
  • Forgoing responsibilities, such as paying bills, to accommodate shopping
  • Feelings of depression and guilt after purchases
  • Avoiding looking at spending & bank statements
  • Setting up secret credit cards to avoid judgment of a spouse

 

Both sexes have seen a rise in compulsive shopping. According to a 2006 Stanford University study, about 6% of women and 5.5% of men are compulsive shoppers [CNN].

 

Different theories abound as to the cause of compulsive shopping, but the overall consensus is that the addicted shopper is compulsively spending to relieve emotional tension, and to experience a “high” from fulfilling the addictive behavior.  The emotional pain ranges from self-esteem issues to childhood trauma to a genetic predisposition. Compulsive shopping has been compared to substance addictions such as food and alcohol, with a binge-purge cycle and feelings of extreme guilt and self-hate.

 

The previously mentioned Stanford study found that compulsive shoppers were mostly young people, consistent with research that the clinical addiction usually starts in the late teens to early 20′s. Could it be a sign of the times? It’s easier than ever to spend money one doesn’t have, and young people are undergoing more and more financial stress.  [Click here to see the study]  Also factoring into compulsive shopping is the massive increase in accessibility to shopping through the internet and mobile devices– it’s easier than ever to hide spending sprees, or to track down desired items and perceived “deals”.

 

While behavioral changes are crucial to recovery from addiction, equally important is reaching out for help. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the compulsive behavioral symptoms listed above, contact Great Lakes Psychology Group today.

Tricia Stehle is a psychologist with Great Lakes Psychology Group Google