A serious problem with over-shopping is unlikely to go away on its own. Canadian researchers compared substance and behavioral addictions (including compulsive buying) over a five-year span and found that shopping addiction was typically not a short-term problem for those affected. For about half of excessive shoppers, the compulsive behavior is ongoing, compared to addictive behaviors such as compulsive gambling and video gaming and overeating, which tend to be more episodic.
That means that if you or someone you love is trying to overcome a shopping addiction, you’ll likely want to seek help. Although shopping addiction isn’t yet considered a bona fide addiction (although there are therapists who’d definitely say it is) you can find the help you need. Unlike drug addiction or alcoholism, though, a treatment (rehab) facility is unlikely to specialize in compulsive buying. Treatment will likely consist of much the same protocol as other types of behavioral addictions, including gambling, sex, porn, exercise, work and others. So what’s most important to know is that there are many tools to help you or someone you care about get better. No matter which approach you choose, it should be customized to fit your needs and will likely incorporate one or more of these therapies:
- Counseling. For most people, working one-on-one with a credentialed therapist is among the most important help you can get in overcoming an addiction, no matter what kind. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to treat many kinds of addiction, including compulsive shopping. With CBT, your therapist will help you identify and change negative and unhelpful thoughts and feelings about yourself that contribute to the urge to buy. Therapy should also help you lessen the value placed on extrinsic goals (your appearance and a desire to appear financially successful, for instance) and improve valuing intrinsic goals (feeling good about who you are, having closer ties to family and friends). Some therapists who specialize in CBT also offer group therapy in which you’ll hear from other people struggling with an addiction to shopping. If you have compulsive buying disorder as well as another addiction (such as an eating disorder or a problem with alcohol for which you’re being treated), you should expect that your health care providers will typically treat the other addiction(s) along with your shopping addiction and any other mental health issues. This integrative approach has been shown to be most effective.Much like people dealing with an addiction to gambling, those who overspend frequently end up in tremendous debt, with unpaid bills, rapidly increasing interest payments and sometimes even legal problems. If this has happened to you or someone you love, you’ll want to seek the guidance of a financial advisor and/or debt counselor to figure out a way to pay back what’s owed and/or salvage or rehab a credit score. He or she can help you develop a budget, set financial goals, put you on a debt-reduction payment plan and recommend ways to thwart overspending in the future, such as cutting up all credit cards, paying only with cash and using self-checkout lanes. Because self-checkout lanes have fewer impulse-buy products and shorter lines, using them helps to cut down on unplanned spending, by 32.1% for women and 16.7% for men, says research.
- Medication. Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants are sometimes given to help people regain control of their impulse to buy. A few small studies have looked at the usefulness of SSRIs to stabilize mood, as well as opioid antagonists such as naltrexone to help control impulsive behavior and the cravings associated with shopping. To date, there is not enough research to prove that medication is effective in treatment shopping addiction.
- Support Groups. Surrounding yourself with the understanding that comes from a community of people who have shared many of the same experiences is tremendously helpful, no matter what kind of addiction you’re dealing with. If you’re looking for a 12-step group, you can turn to Debtors Anonymous and Spenders Anonymous; both offer regular meetings where you can share your struggles and help others who are overcoming overspending, too. Finding the right balance in your sobriety can be easier when you have others who can help you avoid old haunts and feelings of loneliness or anxiety that might lead you back to unhealthy buying habits.Just like someone in recovery from a technology addiction can’t and shouldn’t be expected to never touch a computer again, someone with a shopping addiction can’t abstain completely from shopping. After all, we all need to purchase goods and services to meet our basic needs. Instead, through therapy and support group work (typically), the compulsive shopper learns to identify the emotions that trigger a spending spree and the real needs that aren’t being met, says Dr. April Benson, an expert in compulsive shopping who runs the NYC-based Stopping Overshopping program. By identifying emotional triggers, the compulsive shopper can learn to turn to an alternative activity that will fulfill his or her needs, instead of trying to fill up emptiness with shopping bags full of unneeded items. Through therapy, the over-shopper will also learn ways to help avoid constantly thinking about shopping, cope with cravings and develop strategies that will circumvent overbuying. As mentioned above, some of these techniques include not shopping alone, using the self-checkout lane and shopping only with cash (leave credit cards and checkbooks at home).
Sources: Addictive Behaviors; April Benson, PhD; BioMed Central Psychiatry; Comprehensive Psychiatry; Journal of Behavioral Addictions; Journal of Economic Psychology; Personality and Individual Differences; Principles of Addiction; Psychiatria Daubina; Psychiatry Research; Psychological Reports; Psychosomatic Medicine; Retail Wire; Shopaholicsnomore.com; Synapse; World Psychiatry.