You see a purse in a store window. You know you have enough purses. You know you don’t need another purse. You may not even want another purse. Then again, you don’t have this particular purse. You begin to feel nervous and anxious, although you may not realize why. Your pulse quickens in anticipation of the rush that will accompany the act of buying the purse. That’s what you’re really after. It’s not the material object that makes you feel better; it’s the feeling you get when you purchase something to fill that elusive, emotional void. It may not matter to you, at least not at the time, that when you spend several hundred dollars on this thing — it doesn’t even matter what the thing is – you won’t have enough money to pay your rent. You have to buy it.
The characteristics of any addiction disorder are based around one simple, common factor. If the behavior is detrimental to one’s life, it could be considered an addiction. There are several aspects that go into an official diagnosis, but the end result may be the same – the behavior ultimately controls you.
Shopping addiction, also known as compulsive buying disorder, affects nearly 6 percent of the population of the United States. While the condition has been recognized on some level since the early 20th century, only recently has it been considered for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that is released by the psychiatric community to establish characteristics that ensure consistent diagnosis of mental illnesses. Currently, the psychiatric community is engaging in revisions for the latest edition of this manual. According to the New York Times, the proposed changes include a category that will be called “Behavioral addiction – not otherwise specified.” This is the category into which compulsive shopping could be placed.
Defining Characteristics of Addiction
In order to see the correlation between shopping addiction and the currently accepted substance dependence diagnosis in the existing Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, it is important to look at the information and apply it to one’s shopping habits. The first element for a diagnosis of substance dependence, also known as addiction, is the presence of tolerance. In terms of substance abuse, this refers to the need to use more of a substance than previously required to experience the desired effect. In other words, an individual may have received the euphoric high they were looking for by ingesting a single opiate painkiller in the beginning, but once their body became adjusted to that dosage, they had to ingest two or three tablets. Ultimately, a person suffering from addiction will consistently increase the amount of drugs their body can tolerate.
Another aspect of drug addiction is the presence of withdrawal symptoms when drugs or alcohol are unavailable. In many cases, an individual who suffers from addiction will deliberately abuse drugs not for the euphoric effects but to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of withdrawal. Next on the list is one’s inability to control how much of a drug he or she consumes or for how long they engage in that behavior. An example might be an individual who plans to attend a party, have one or two cocktails, and then go home to get a good night’s sleep for work the next day. Instead, they find themselves intoxicated and still drinking into the wee hours of the morning.
Now, this individual may recognize that they have a problem. They may make a concerted effort to stop abusing substances, only to find – at least in their mind – that their willpower is lacking. They are unable to cut down on their usage and abuse of drugs, no matter how hard they try. Despite their best efforts, they spend long hours looking for drugs, abusing them, and recovering from the effects. In fact, rather than attending important social events, job-related activities, or even participating in their favorite hobby, this individual will choose to use drugs. Finally, they will continue to abuse drugs even if they know it is having serious physical and mental impacts on their daily life.
How does this relate to shopping addiction? For just one moment, if you or someone you love may be struggling with shopping addiction, place the activity of shopping into the descriptions of addiction.
- Have you noticed an increase in the amount of money you are spending, or have you noticed that you make more frequent trips to the mall? Do you not experience the same satisfaction from purchasing a single item that you’ve experienced in the past? Are you scaling up your shopping habit to get the same results?
- Do to you suffer from increased anxiety or depression if you’re unable to go shopping? Aside from normal disappointment, do you suffer actual physical or mental anguish that can only be satisfied by making a purchase?
- Have you ever set a limit for yourself, a certain dollar amount that you will allow yourself to spend, only to discover at the end of the day that you have spent considerably more and purchased many more items than you intended?
- Have you ever broken a promise to yourself related to shopping? Have you ever said, “I will not buy anything today,” only to disappoint yourself because you were unable to keep this promise?
- Does shopping or spending money consume your thoughts consistently? Do you find yourself trying to figure out ways you can go shopping, whether it is a trip to a mall, online shopping, or television shopping network involvement?
- Have you ignored responsibilities at work, such as completing required assignments, while you used company resources to shop online instead? Perhaps you’ve taken an excessively long lunch to continue shopping, ignoring your responsibilities at the office. Have you made the decision to go shopping rather than attend an important event for your child, such as a sports game or dance recital?
- Shopping may not cause the same long-lasting physical effects as methamphetamine or cocaine addiction directly, but it can bring about psychological issues, such as depression and anxiety, due to the guilt and shame associated with the addictive aspects of the condition. Do you feel bad after a shopping episode, yet you are still unable to stop?
Treatment for Shopping Addiction
Behaviors, even compulsive behaviors, are often learned through experience and the ability of our brain to associate certain activities with certain rewards. It doesn’t necessarily matter what the experience is — if it makes us feel good, we want to repeat it. In the case of substance abuse, the use of the drug brings about a certain level of euphoria. In the case of shopping, it might bring about euphoria or it might simply alleviate the anxiety that we feel on a regular basis. Either way, it is necessary to unlearn these behaviors in order to break free of the addiction.
One method for unlearning bad behaviors is a process that involves cognitive behavioral therapies. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches an individual new and better ways to think about the stress in their life, trauma they may have experienced in the past, or their fears about the future. Generally, how we act or behave in any given situation is based on our perception of that situation. In order to change our behavior through the use of newly acquired coping skills, we must change how we think.
According to the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists, there are several benefits to the use of cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of many conditions. For instance:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy is a short-term process with long-term results – the average number of sessions required is fewer than 20.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy places the focus on productive progress rather than the emotional connection between the therapist and the patient, although a relationship based on respect and trust is part of the overall equation.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy helps individuals to recognize that their attitudes concerning problems in their lives directly influence their ability to effectively deal with those issues.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy includes homework to encourage the patient to focus their attention on recovery repeatedly throughout the therapeutic process.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy is goal-oriented, with an emphasis on helping an individual learn how to obtain their own goals regardless of what they may be.
If you or someone you love may be suffering from a shopping addiction, the long-lasting effects can be emotionally, physically, and financially catastrophic. Getting help for not only a shopping addiction, but also for any other underlying or co-occurring disorders that may exist can make a great deal of difference in your life today and tomorrow. Call us here at The Orchid for information on how we can help.