At the risk of sounding melodramatic, shopping addiction operates the same way as heroin addiction. Sure, the consequences are different, but how the two items interact with your brain is similar. With heroin, the consequences are financial ruin, shattered familial relationships, depression, and ultimately, severe medical problems or death. With a shopping addiction, everything except death is bound to happen. However, death is not out of the question as debt can cause pretty severe depression.
How does heroin work? Heroin is an opioid, a very powerful painkiller. Our bodies are packed with opioid receptors which are supposed to bind to endorphins, our natural pain-killing substances that are created when our bodies get injured or goes into shock. Heroin acts just as an endorphin would and binds to the receptors, giving a pain-killing effect. The result: A surge of pleasure and sensation, warmness, a sense of well-being.
How does shopping work? “What we believe and have evidence for is that people have the same kind of surge in brain chemicals when they anticipate buying something as when (an alcoholic) anticipates drinking,” says April Lane Benson, a psychotherapist who specializes in compulsive shopping and the author of “I Shop, Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self.” “It’s the anticipation of pleasure that starts the brain rolling. You can see physical symptoms. People might sweat or their heart races.”
12 Ways to Spot a Shopping Addict
Unlike heroin addicts, shopping addicts may be a lot harder to spot.
Does the person in question:
- Juggle their bills, constantly floating them because they spent their money shopping?
- Get angry or upset when they can’t buy something they want, like a new pair of shoes?
- Go to the store to buy one pair of pants but walk out with five?
- Give false information to obtain credit?
- Bounce checks frequently?
- Keep their purchases secretive to avoid ridicule?
- Get distracted from their daily work because of debt?
- Get depressed if they don’t go shopping, and in turn, go shopping to feel better?
- Pay an excessive amount of money towards bills (33%+), not including mortgage or rent?
- Have a hard time having left over money at the end of the month, frequently declaring leftover money “spending” money?
- Return items out of guilt, caving to the pressure of being in the store and winding up buying other items?
- Buy things they want regardless of the financial sense it makes?
You may have a shopping problem if you said yes to a few of these. It may not be a problem, too. It really depends on a lot of issues. If you are concerned, contact a professional! If you aren’t asking these questions about yourself, you can ask them about someone else. Does someone you love have a problem with shopping?
12 Steps to Recovery from Shopping Addiction & Debt
- Join a group like DA (Debtors Anonymous) to gain a support structure with people facing similar issues.
- Create a budget. This will allow you to see all of your finances as an overview and convey the importance of not overspending.
- Create a plan to pay off debt. Plans should be specific and actionable. What debts do you have, how much do you owe, what are the minimum payments and interest rates, etc.
- Recognize the difference between need and want. When you go shopping, make a list of “need” items only.
- Recognize any impulses you may have. Was the impulse for a need or a want? You need to think each impulse through to create awareness. Do NOT beat yourself up over these impulses, just learn from them.
- Pay by cash. Credit cards are great tools for some, but if you have a shopping compulsion, get rid of your cards! If you need an emergency card, keep it at a family member or friend’s house.
- When you shop, bring someone with you that is not compulsive. They will serve as a “grounding” force to make sure you don’t go overboard.
- Separate the classification of who people are from what they own. She is not “Jill, you know… the blonde woman with the nice Mercedes?” She is now “Jill, you know… the woman from Church with the 3 adorable children?”
- Discount warehouses provide a great savings. But not for people who can’t control their spending! The sheer amount of products in these stores and good bargains may drive you to shop. Would you send a recovering alcoholic to Mardi Gras? A gambling addict to Las Vegas?
- Try and figure out why your impulses are there. You keep having an urge for fancy dinners. Is it because you associate that with love? What would meet that need but be healthier for you, mentally and financially? A picnic in the park? A homemade dinner?
- If you truly enjoy window shopping, do it after hours when all the stores are closed. Or do it without bringing a wallet. Either way, you get to look, but can’t buy.
- Finally, you have gained power over your spending. You control your spending, now… not the other way around.
These steps are not an “ordered” list. You will most likely be practicing all of these points simultaneously as they build off of each other.
From Debtor to Saver
These changes will not happen overnight, but they are necessary. Whether you are a compulsive shopper and reading this or you are reading this and know someone who is a compulsive shopper, this is a serious problem.
People often blame things like this on carelessness or lack of personal responsibility, but completely discount the fact that for some people it is a problem they are having a hard time dealing with. This does not mean there are no repercussions, as you very well know from your debt, but I wish you the best in taking care of the situation!
If you have dealt with compulsive shopping or know someone who has and would like to share some information, post a comment (anonymously if you would like) or contact me!