Compulsive shopping: No sale

Extreme shopping, which affects 5.8 percent of Americans, can lead to severe debt, anxiety

Special to The TribuneJune 25, 2013 


Folks who habitually shop until they drop may have more to contend with than bulging closets and unworn clothes. They could also be suffering from an emotional disorder with a serious impact on their lives.

Compulsive shoppers are found worldwide and make up 5.8 percent of the U.S. population. The vast majority (80 percent) are women.

The conduct is known by a variety of names compulsive buying disorder, shopping addiction or shopaholism. But the pattern is still the same: Subjects are preoccupied with shopping. They fantasize about future purchases. They spend inordinate amounts of money they don’t have. They experience acute tension before making a purchase and a sense of relief afterward.

Shopping addiction generally begins in early adulthood. It often appears alongside other psychiatric disorders, including depression and anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders and problems with impulse control. It tends to run in families.

Compulsive buying happens all year-round, but it’s more common during Christmas and around the birthdays of family members and friends.

Shopping addiction has no standard treatment, but antidepressants seem to help. In a study reported in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 24 compulsive shoppers who were given Celexa reported a sharp decrease in their symptoms. Psychotherapy can be useful to help minimize stress, stabilize moods and learn new shopping strategies. Debtors Anonymous is also valuable to provide the support and accountability necessary to control excessive spending.

Wondering if you’re a shopaholic? Ask yourself the following questions:

• Do I often go shopping when I’m feeling down?

• Do I frequently spend money I don’t have on things that I don’t need?

• Am I in credit card debt because of my shopping habits?

• Do I get a rush when I make a purchase, but emotionally crash soon afterward?

• Do I have closets full of clothes that still have the tags on them?

• Do I feel reckless and out of control when I go shopping?

• Do I lie to my friends and family about my shopping habits?

• Do my shopping habits interfere with my life?

• Are my loved ones concerned about my shopping?

If you answered yes to four or more of these questions, your shopping could be causing you trouble. Take steps now to get the help you need.


• Get rid of your credit cards. They entice you to spend more than you have. Pay them off ASAP, then cut them up. Save one for emergency purposes only.

• Create a budget. Know how much money is coming in and where every penny is spent. Allot a certain amount of money to purchase clothes or miscellaneous items. Learn to live within your means.

• Stick with your shopping list. Make a list of the items you need and purchase only those items. You’ll be less tempted to overspend if you start the expedition with clear constraints.

• Avoid discount warehouses and malls. They offer too many options. And the bright lights and heightened stimulation add to your emotional high. Shop at small boutiques where there are fewer distractions and you’re more likely to keep yourself in check.

• Don’t shop online. The combination of endless options, anonymity and isolation can kick addictive behavior into high gear.

• Avoid shopping alone. A trusted friend or family member can help run interference and monitor your moods. Of course, pick your co-shopper wisely. Two unleashed shopaholics can be a recipe for financial disaster.

• Manage your moods. Take responsibility for your own emotions. Notice when you feel agitated, sad or anxious. If your psychological thermometer starts to climb, take a few deep breaths to regain your calm. Remove yourself from stressful situations. Replace problematic thoughts with rational ones.

• Get help. Share your concerns with your doctor. Talk with a therapist who’s knowledgeable about shopping addictions. Join a Debtors Anonymous support group. Do whatever it takes to get the problem under control. It won’t go away by itself.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit

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