Shopping Addiction ( SHOPAHOLICS ) Symptoms, Causes and Effects


By Disha Uberoi

Some of you may be looking forward to an article that lists out the best places to shop and bargain in Indonesia, keeping in mind my ability to be a good bargainer. I am sorry to disappoint you; this is, in fact, contrary to that and maybe a damper for you. But believe me; it is going to make you think twice before you hit the malls and markets in Jakarta.

From hitting the mall or markets alone or with friends – to spending on necessities or gifts, shopping could be called one of the favourite pastimes. For some, it means necessities, but for the affluent others, shopping nowadays is merely an enjoyable event, and in some cases, it is a real and destructive addiction that can turn into a financial disaster. It can also be termed as “SHOPAHOLISM” or “Compulsive Shopping”, when spending is defined as inappropriate, excessive, and out of control. Like other addictions, it basically has to do with lack of control over one’s impulses, or simply put, impulsiveness. This not only causes distress to the person’s life, but to family and finances.

Reason for this Addictive Behavior

It is not possible to point the finger at one cause for addictions like shopping, alcoholism, drug abuse, and gambling. Some evidence suggests that genetics – to a certain degree – play a role, together with your emotional upbringing and an environment in which this is triggered. However, there is more clarity on why addicts pursue this behavior. Individuals (mostly women) get some kind of high from an addictive behavior like shopping. Feel good chemicals are released in the brain, and you guessed it, the person feels good and if it feels good they are more likely to do it, reinforcing that addiction. It is a vicious circle, wherein the addict thinks that they are happy and out of misery, but the depression and urge to shop comes back even faster, pulling one in a downward spiral.

Symptoms of Shopaholics

I hope none of us can identify with the points below, though at times we all are guilty of some. Shopping crosses the line and becomes an addiction when one:
–    Feels tremendously happy and excited shopping.
–    Buys more than what is needed.
–    Hides purchases and is afraid to reveal all to their partner.
–    Returning bought items because of guilt.
–    Spends over and well above their budget and income, getting into financial trouble.
–    Buys compulsively, meaning going for a pair of shoes and coming out with more.
–    The frequency of spending and shopping is high and is a continuous problem, not just once or twice a year.
–    Regularly spending hours in the markets, going through catalogues or on the computer. Most tend to focus on fashion – clothes, bags, shoes and jewelry.
–    Has damaged relationships from excessive spending or shopping as the person spends time away from home, covers up debt, and ends up emotionally and physically isolated.

If they are no longer in control of their shopping and the shopping is in control of them, then they have crossed the line. Most compulsive shoppers are ordinary people worldwide, although the problem has been noted among the rich and powerful for hundreds of years. Among many, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, known for her charm and great fashion sense, was an obsessive shopper whose uncontrolled behavior alarmed both of her husbands’. This type of shopping has little to do with income, though money does determine the shopping venue, ranging from warehouse sales, discount stores, to Saks Fifth Avenue and Madison Square.

Another factor that has dramatically fueled shopping addiction is internet or online shopping which is accessible 24×7. Shopping and surfing sitting in the comfort of your room cannot be resisted by many, and slowly gets the better of you, leading to a disorder, rather than a necessity.

How to Control & Treat This

–    Firstly, you need to admit that you are a compulsive spender, which is half the battle.
–    Don’t shop alone.
–    Get rid of your credit cards, keep only one for emergency.
–    Pay for purchases by cash.
–    Put your home computer in a place where family members can see what you  are doing.
–    Make a shopping list and only buy what is on the list.
–    Don’t watch TV shopping channels.
–    Take a walk or exercise when the urge to shop comes on.
–    Ask yourself, do you need this or do you want it?
–    Seek professional counseling or a self-help group to deal with this problem.
And, my favourite:
–    Try to find other fulfilling and meaningful ways to spend your time and cope with emotions. You could volunteer in your community; spend more time with family and inspiring friends; study or take up a hobby; read books, etc.

The truth is that a shopaholic often suffers from emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem (desiring the approval of others), and sometimes has other substance addictions, like internet addiction or gambling. The shopaholic also has a profound sense of materialism, with the assumption that affection, attention and admiration can also be bought. Let the person realize that self-worth is not related to the items that they buy. It is a gap within that they try to fill by indulging in these external physical pursuits. The underlying issues have to be dealt with in order to treat this behavior. Since it is an emotional problem, the antidote and solution too lies in emotional healing. Mind you, it will require a lot of time, patience, and attention and love to treat such people and will not happen overnight, so keep your expectations at bay. A real social connection with other people and healthy distractions helps to reduce this problem. Positive encouragement is always a great way to help the addict. Treatment with behavioral therapy and counseling does help too.

Going forward, I am confident that our shopping will be sensible and more requirement-based rather than a leisure activity. It is good sometimes though, to go out alone and spoil yourself or spend time with friends.