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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Shopping Spree, or Addiction?

What happens when shopping spirals out of control, and in some cases, becomes an addiction?

Shopoholism continued...

What else should a concerned family member or friend look out for when they think shopping has become a problem?

  • Spending over budget. "Often times a person will spend over their budget and get into deep financial trouble, spending well above their income," says Engs. "The normal person will say, 'Oops, I can't afford to buy this or that.' But not someone who has an addiction," explains Engs -- he or she will not recognize the boundaries of a budget.
  • Compulsive buying. "When a person with a shopping addiction goes shopping, they often compulsively buy, meaning they go for one pair of shoes and come out with 10."
  • It's a chronic problem. "A shopping addiction is a continuous problem," says Engs. "It's more than two or three months of the year, and more than a once-a-year Christmas spree."
  • Hiding the problem. "Shopoholics will hide their purchases because they don't want their significant other to know they bought it because they'll be criticized," says Engs. "They may have secret credit card accounts, too. Because this problem affects mostly women, as alcoholism affects mostly men, husbands will all of sudden be told their wife is $20,000-$30,000 in debt and they are responsible, and many times, this comes out in divorce."
  • A vicious circle. "Some people will take their purchases back because they feel guilty," says Engs. "That guilt can trigger another shopping spree, so it's a vicious circle." And in these people, debt may not be an issue because they're consistently returning clothes out of guilt -- but a problem still exists.
  • Impaired relationships. "It is not uncommon for us to see impairments in relationships from excessive spending or shopping," says Rick Zehr, vice president of addiction and behavioral services at Proctor Hospital at the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery. "Impairment can occur because the person spends time away from home to shop, covers up debt with deception, and emotionally and physically starts to isolate themselves from others as they become preoccupied with their behavior."
  • Clear consequences. "It's just like any other addiction -- it has nothing to do with how much a person shops or spends, and everything to do with consequences," says Zehr. "We often get the question around the holidays that because a person spent more money than she intended, does this make her an addict? The answer is no. However, if there is a pattern or a trend or consequences that occur with excessive shopping then the person may be a problem spender -- the hallmark is still loss of control. If they are no longer in control of their shopping but their shopping is in control of them, they've crossed the line."

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