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Shopping is often seen as an enjoyable pastime, and many people find they get a “lift” when they go on a spree. Their brains release endorphins and dopamine, and they ride the wave of shopping euphoria. The problem that arises is when over time these feelings become addictive. When shopping crosses the line, it can lead to feelings of guilt and shame and even severe financial hardship.

A shopping addiction can adversely impact your relationships and your professional life, and cause difficulties with your partner or your employer. For those already balancing high-profile careers and personal obligations, the additional burden of a shopping addiction can create even more challenges. Although compulsive buying is often associated with women, a study out of Stanford University found that about six percent of women and five percent of men may fall into the category of compulsive shoppers.

Causes and Risk Factors

People addicted to shopping make purchases for the same reason people addicted to drugs and alcohol continue to use their substance of choice. The act impacts the pleasure pathway in the brain, releasing dopamine in large amounts to create a euphoric sensation or “high.” When the initial rush wears off, the individual must make another purchase to maintain the positive effects.

Some of the factors that could put a person at a higher risk for a shopping addiction include:

  • Low self-esteem or loneliness – using shopping to fill the void
  • Depression or anxiety – shopping becomes a method of self-medicating symptoms
  • Loss of control – a person may feel like buying items helps them regain control of life
  • Emotional pain – whether from childhood trauma or mental illness, shopping eases the discomfort temporarily

In some cases, a shopping addiction may replace another type of substance abuse. While shopping may not be as physically harmful as drugs or alcohol, the impact of the behavior on one’s life can be devastating.

Symptoms of a Shopping Addiction

How do you know when your shopping “habit” becomes an addiction? Left unchecked, shopping addiction can lead to catastrophic consequences on both a personal and financial level.

Some of the signs to watch for include:

  • Consistently spending more money than you plan or expect
  • Chronic shopping – increasing the amount of time you spend on the activity
  • Thinking about shopping all the time, planning trips and purchases
  • Feeling guilty after spending money, buying more to mask the guilt
  • Hiding shopping trips or the amount you spend from family and friends
  • Shopping when you are angry, depressed or anxious
  • Continued shopping despite broken relationships and financial trouble

Treatment can help individuals develop healthier ways to cope with negative feelings and keep shopping in check.

Long-Term Repercussions

While it’s true shopping addiction does not create physical consequences in most cases, the financial impact can be substantial. People addicted to shopping and compulsive buying may find themselves in a level of debt they cannot dig out of easily. At the same time, this addiction can take its toll on personal relationships, as spouses and others may become frustrated with the behavior and even end relationships in some cases. Early treatment can help to prevent many of these long-term consequences, restoring a healthy attitude towards shopping as an essential of life rather than an addictive behavior.

Shopping Addiction and Substance Abuse

Addiction to shopping and dependency on substances like drugs and alcohol have some similar features. Both affect the pleasure centers of the brain, creating a “high” that users want to repeat over and over again. When the two disorders collide, the results can be even more complicated. In many cases, people addicted to shopping will experience a similar guilt and shame like that associated with alcohol or drug abuse. Some people may use (and abuse) substances before shopping trips, which can lower inhibitions and impair judgment, leading to more spending in many cases. Shopping addictions can also develop as a person is trying to overcome substance abuse, as it offers a substitute to the “high” achieved by drugs and alcohol.

Treatment Options

When shopping addiction accompanies a substance use disorder, referred to as a co-occurring disorder, it can complicate the treatment process. Most individuals respond better to treatment that addresses both conditions simultaneously, but this requires expertise and experience in co-occurring disorders to be successful.

The staff at the Center for Professional Recovery works with clients from high-profile careers such as doctors and lawyers, helping them overcome substance abuse and co-occurring disorders as needed.

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