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Captured by useless purchases: Helping your loved ones to overcome shopping addiction

06.08.2019 Author: psiholog pavel horoshutin
how to get rid of shopaholism

“I earn a lot, yet sometimes I feel that I am living in poverty. This is all because my wife has a shopping addiction. What can I do to help her hold back on impulsive buying?

We have been together for 7 years. When we just started living together, I didn’t really see her splurging on things. However, once she went on maternity leave, it all ran amok. All of our family budget gets spent on endless purchases. Let’s be frank here: it is all just garbage that fills all the closets and cabinets in our home. She is simply unable to stop if there is even a bit of money in her wallet. She comes back home with bags and bags of things, from clothes and shoes to various doodads. She buys it all for me, for herself and for our son. And afterwards we don’t even have any money for food and necessities, so I have to borrow from my parents.

I try to help her get rid of this habit of buying everything she sees, I took away all her credit cards, I don’t let her go shopping without me, sometimes I simply go alone. However, nothing helps—she doesn’t want to throw away all the accumulated garbage, she borrows money from her friends and has now switched to online shopping. I think it is even worse than alcohol addiction. Our relationship is crumbling by a day.”

– Aleksey, 33

Think about the word “shopping”. What do you feel about it? Quite likely, something nice. However, many psychologists agree that shopping can become a crippling addiction that can affect health and destroy relationships the same way gambling and drugs do. Both the addict and their family suffer from it. Let’s find out how we can help a person trapped in the vicious circle of impulsive buying and whether shopping addiction can be treated.

Contents:

Signs of shopping addiction

unnecessary purchases

Shopping addiction (or oniomania) is an irresistible urge to buy things without an obvious need to do so. For people with this addiction, any shopping trip becomes both leisure and entertainment, so, in essence, the only source of joy. [1]

Like any other addiction, this one develops in stages. First a person simply enjoys watching the merchandise behind the glass. Once they experience an emotional lift from endorphines (the happy hormones), they start buying goods. Afterwards, shopping becomes a habit, and can even feel like the only way to relieve stress in difficult life circumstances. In time, the addiction drives out every other thing in a person’s life, becoming their one and only passion. At this stage, endless buying does not bring that emotional lift anymore. However, if a person refrains from shopping, they fall into depression. At the final stage, shopping addiction leads to complete personal degradation. A person does not control themselves anymore when going to a shopping mall. [2]

What are the signs of a shopping addiction?

  • An addict spends more than they earn. Things like paying for utilities, maintaining household and even eating are put on the back burner. Obtaining pleasure from the process of buying becomes the most important part of an addict’s life.
  • They often buy useless things, filling every inch of their house with it.
  • They only talk about their purchases or the next shopping trip.
  • On impulse, they may even take a big loan to buy the desired item. The consequences do not matter at that moment, obtaining the article is everything.
  • The addicts display mood swings, from emotional lift after buying to apathy when they are unable for some reason to purchase the thing they want.
  • They do not admit that this addiction makes their life harder and destroys their relationships.

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Discovering an addict: a test

shopaholism addiction

It can sometimes be hard to find out whether a person you know is a shopping addict. Some people simply like to go shopping, choose new clothes, search for interesting offers from their favorite brands, follow sales or special offers. However, all that doesn’t mean that a person has a mental disorder. 

If you feel that your loved one’s urge for purchasing is developing into a mania, you should analyze their behavior. Shopping addiction is not just about relentless spending. It is also about the emotional state during purchases. We must consider all the signs that point to oniomania.

Here is a test that can help you understand whether you should worry about your friend or relative. [2] Answer “yes” or “no” to these 10 statements:

  1. A person is so consumed with telemarketing that they often order advertised goods, regardless of their usefulness.
  2. A person breaks all promises and dives into personal and family savings just to make purchases.
  3. Many of the purchased items lie in the closet with a price tag still attached, because the person doesn’t even use the items.
  4. A person is aware of all the sales in the nearest stores and rushes there to “buy everything for a song”.
  5. A person always buys expensive presents to friends and relatives, even if they cannot afford it.
  6. A person constantly borrows money or takes loans from banks.
  7. A person takes a lot of time to return the money they have borrowed, which affects their relationship with friends.
  8. A person experiences a short-term sense of guilt after impulsive spending.
  9. A person often hides their real spending and lies about the amount of their purchases.
  10. A person becomes apathetic, irritable and even aggressive if they are unable to buy a certain thing for some reason.

Count your positive replies. If you have answered “yes” to more than 6 statements, your loved one is close to becoming a shopping addict. Support them in overcoming that addiction.

How people become shopping addicts: causes of oniomania

becoming a shopaholic

There is an opinion that shopping is a good way to boost the mood and relieve stress. It is partially so due to the positive emotions we can receive from obtaining new things. However, shopping becomes an addiction when a person gets stuck in a vicious circle: first comes pleasure from buying, then the sense of guilt and disappointment in oneself due to relentless spending, which leads to more shopping to relieve stress.

Psychologists think that people who lacked attention and care from their parents during childhood are more prone to developing oniomania. Such people continue suffering from the “lack of love” even after becoming adults, so their purchases become the gifts for themselves. Also, shopping addiction can develop in people who grew up in poor families. In their case, multiple purchases become the easiest way to demonstrate their wealth and validity to others. [3]

However, according to psychologists the main causes for shopping addiction come from personality features and the relationships with other people. [2] Let’s look at these causes for addiction:

  1. Inadequate self-esteem

If a person lacks self-esteem, they start buying things that can make them look more attractive and worthy. There is a risk that such behavior goes out of control and turns into a shopping addiction.

Psychologists think that women are especially at risk for developing shopping addiction caused by low self-esteem. When women are discontent with their appearance, they start filling their closets with clothing, accessories and makeup products. Men are rarely affected by the same cause. [3]

  1. Emotional discomfort

Anxiety, chronic stress and depression, tendency towards anger and hysterical outbursts can lead to emotional discomfort, which in turn can cause shopping addiction. A person uses shopping to fight their negative emotional state. Of course, such addiction does not solve the problem, it only makes it worse.

  1. Family and work troubles

Inability to solve conflicts efficiently, regardless of their root cause, can lead to addiction. It can be an addiction to any bad habit, including shopping. Multiple purchases give the person an illusion of control over their life. This way they try to escape the constant troubles.

  1. Loneliness

Active shopping can give a person a lot of positive emotions due to secretion of “happy hormones”. It helps them fill their inner void and distract themselves from their loneliness.

Psychologists think that loneliness and the sense of inner void can often lead to shopping addiction in women. Such women can be conscious of common stereotypes and feel guilt that they have failed to have a family before reaching a certain age. [3]

  1. Low level of self-control

Due to individual personal features, acquired habits and peculiarities of upbringing, a person may have a low level of self-control, which can lead to shopping addiction. A person does not work on their behavior, they are unable to accept their emotions, withhold from unplanned spending by putting their foot down and refusing to buy new things.

Types of shopping addicts

All people with a tendency towards unplanned purchases can be divided in 3 groups. [4] Such classification helps to plan the ways to fight the addiction and get a better view on its root causes. Pay attention to the behavior of your loved one to find out which group they belong to.

Impulsive

They do not consider themselves addicts and do not accept the existence of the problem. However, they cannot disregard the “on sale” mark on an item and often make unplanned purchases.

Conscious

They rarely buy useless things, being more practical. However, when they see a necessary item in a shop, they buy several types of it (with different textures, taste or smell). Such people like discounts and bonuses, as they are convinced that by buying heaps of discounted items they are actually saving money.

True

Such people buy everything at once, without thinking about the consequences. Their immediate desire is the only thing that matters.

Helping a person overcome shopping addiction

Many psychologists compare shopping addiction to gaming and mobile addiction. Those are also types of addictions where no harmful substances are involved. However, they cause the same amount of damage as alcohol and nicotine addiction. 

It may seem that the signs of shopping addiction are not so prominent to threaten the health state of an addict. However, oniomania has severe social consequences. The friends and family of an addict must teach them about it. Try to explain to your loved one that their irresistible urge for shopping leads to constant arguments about money, unmanageable debt load, straining the relationships with friends due to inability to return the borrowed money. 

If an addict can accept their addiction and the problems caused by it, they will have an easier time getting rid of it. By working together you can build a strategy for overcoming an addiction. You should also come to an agreement that you follow this path without lying about spending on impulsive purchases.

Psychologists say that prohibitions and ultimatums do not work with addicts. That goes for shopping addiction as well. Things like taking away credit cards, prohibiting a person from going shopping and emotional blackmail are ineffective when fighting oniomania. An addict can come up with loads of reasons to leave the house and is able to find the money for the next purchase anywhere. In some cases, addicts can even turn to stealing and fraud to obtain the desired item. [3]

Get ready that a person who was addicted to buying clothes experiences withdrawal symptoms. Without the dose of adrenaline from purchasing, a person may feel apathy and depression, become aggressive towards others. You must not abandon an addict in such state. They need your help and support.

Ways to fight shopping addiction

unnecessary purchases

“My husband is a shopping addict. He is 36, and I am his second wife. We have been together for 3 years, yet it took me time to notice that he is obsessed with shops. At first, I considered his extravagant spending to be an advantage, a sign of being generous. However, later I started to become wary of it. He buys things we need and things we don’t: we need much less food and clothes than he buys. It is almost impossible to stop him when he is in a store.

Now I am already starting to panic. I began finding things hidden in our apartment, he buys them and hides from me to evade arguments. I gave him an ultimatum: if he buys another thing without telling me, I throw that thing right away. He seemed to understand me. However, that didn’t last long, he returned to unnecessary spending and purchasing. His son from the first marriage told me that my husband had even gone bankrupt before due to his addiction. I heard about women getting a shopping addiction, but I was surprised to see a man develop one too. I have no idea how to fight this addiction of his.”

– Irina, 30

Like with any other addiction, treating oniomania requires a correct approach. Here is what psychologists recommend:

  1. Keep a diary

Suggest keeping a diary to an addict, where they can describe their thoughts and emotions during impulsive buying and put down their spending. It will help them understand what moves them to endless shopping trips, whether it is work problems, stress or fatigue. If you know the cause, you can find a way to fight an addiction easier.

  1. Control over spending

It is important to ensure that an addict has no access to “spare” money. Family budget must be maintained by a person with no tendency towards impulsive buying, or a total financial collapse is inevitable. Become responsible for essential spending, leaving small amount of “pocket money” to an addict.

It is important here that you do not take the money away, you simply negotiate this way of sharing responsibility. Do not forget that strict prohibition is ineffective. A shopping addict who accepts the existence of the problem will agree to that.

  1. Interesting hobby

An addict should learn how ineffective their attempt to fight bad mood with shopping really is. Suggest an interesting hobby to them. It is even better to search for a common activity together.

You should help them develop a positive behavior pattern: once they feel stressed, they should simply engage in their hobby, not rush to the store.

  1. Financial literacy

A “seasoned” shopping addict is often unaware how much their bad habit damages the family budget. You should convey that idea to them. It is time for an addict to learn some financial literacy. Make a list of your income and spending, plan big purchases, create shopping lists before each trip to the store.

  1. Willpower

Overcoming any psychological addiction is always difficult for a person with low level of self-control. Help an addict develop their willpower, as they struggle to say “no” to their desires.

You can start slowly, by making a pause before buying things. If a person became fascinated with a certain item in the store, take them away from the shop window and ask them to wait a day before buying. More often than not, the desire to purchase an item will go away. Let a shopping addict develop their restraint and train their willpower.

Treatment of shopping addiction can last months or even years. It is mainly due to the fact that you cannot completely eliminate the source of addiction from a person’s life (online and offline shops). That is why you may experience various failures on the way to overcoming a bad habit, for example, you may think that impulsive buying has become a thing of the past, but discover a lot of unnecessary items in your home the next day. You should not waste your time and consult a psychologist before an addict goes on a spree.

We will help you to give up your addiction to shopping

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7Spsy behavior modification technique course has shown great results in fighting psychological addictions, including the one to shopping. This method is based on the works of I. P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, A. A. Ukhtomsky etc.

By taking this course, a shopping addict can change their established behavior pattern of coming to the store time and time again and spending more that they can afford. An addict will accept the problem and find the strength to fight an addiction that poisons their relationships and empties their wallet. A psychologist will help an addict replace negative mindset with a positive one. An addict will learn that buying useless things is not a good way to fight stress, it will not make them more attractive or successful.

Many addicts refrain from consulting a psychologist, because they do not want to speak about their personal issues. 7Spsy behavior modification course is free of this practice. Participation is strictly confidential. Tell this to your loved one, as this alone can motivate them to take part. The course lasts up to 6 weeks. All classes are taken remotely at the patient’s convenience. A psychologist supports the patient for the whole duration of the course by consulting them via e-mail, by phone or in online chat.

References:

  1. «Addiktologiya. Psihologiya i psihoterapiya zavisimostej», 2012 g., G. V. Starshenbaum.
  2. «Nekhimicheskie (povedencheskie) addikcii» (zhurnal «Addiktologiya», 2005 g., №1), A. YU. Egorov.
  3. «Svoboda ot zavisimosti. Socialnye bolezni lichnosti», 2008 g., A. YU. Akopov.
  4. «Privychki, kotorye vas ubivayut», 2008 g., I. Trushch.