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Addicted To Shopping: 7 Signs You May Have A Problem

By WebMD Connect to Care Staff
Shopping addiction is easy to hide, thanks to online buying. Here's how to tell if your shopping habit is a sign of a serious problem.

A 2016 meta-analysis suggests that about 4.9 percent of Americans are addicted to shopping. The prevalence is even higher among university students (8.3 percent) and among shoppers (16.2 percent).

The advent of Internet shopping makes it easier to buy in the comfort and privacy of your own home, potentially increasing the rate of shopping addiction. You don't have to spend thousands of dollars or go into debt to be addicted to shopping--although these are certainly red flags.

Here are 7 signs you might have a problem.

Negative Emotions and Low Self-Esteem

Shopping can be a distraction from unpleasant emotions, offering a temporary high that may help people feel better about themselves or less anxious. A 2014 analysis highlights a number of emotional risk factors for shopping addiction, including:

  • low self-esteem
  • low self-regulation (the ability to control your behavior and act in your own best interests)
  • negative emotions
  • cognitive overload (feeling like one has few brain resources)

You are especially likely to be a shopping addict if you use shopping to manage negative emotions.

Preoccupation With Shopping

Planning your expenditures is a good way to manage your budget. But if you find yourself spending significant time thinking about shopping, you may have a problem. Some examples of shopping preoccupation include:

  • spending significant parts of the day shopping or planning purchases
  • thinking about shopping when you should be doing something else
  • being distracted from conversations by thoughts of shopping

Shopping in Secret

It is easier than ever before to shop in secret, thanks to online buying. People with shopping addictions may shop in secret to conceal their purchases or because they feel guilty about their behavior.

Being Unable to Stop Shopping

People with a shopping addiction feel unable to stop shopping. They may resolve to quit and successfully do so for a while, then return to shopping. Stress can trigger this relapse. So too can denial that there is a problem. Because we live in a society that requires everyone to shop, it's easy to dismiss problem shopping as normal. Relapsing compulsive shoppers may gradually increase their spending such that it does not feel as harmful as it is.

Compromising Your Values or Well-Being to Shop

One of the hallmarks of addiction is that it causes a person to indulge in the addiction even when doing so is harmful. People with a shopping addiction may make choices they regret to shop, or even do things that endanger themselves or others. Some examples include:

  • spending more than you can afford
  • avoiding paying bills to shop
  • taking on more debt than you can manage
  • taking money from other people to shop
  • compromising your values to shop, such as by using money you intended to give to charity to buy things

Feeling Guilty About Purchases

Most people buy things they don't need every now and again. Some may even feel guilty about these purchases. Chronic guilt about shopping, however, may signal a problem--especially if a person continues to shop in spite of this guilt.

Needing to Shop to Feel Normal

For people without a shopping addiction, buying something can be a fun diversion or a necessity. People with compulsive buying disorder feel compelled to spend money so that they can feel normal. When you can't shop, you might feel angry, frustrated, or grumpy. You might feel like you will be unable to enjoy your life if you cannot shop. The frustration of being unable to shop is a common reason people who are trying to quit relapse.