Are You a Compulsive Shopper?

These days, shopping is as much a form of entertainment as going to the movies or playing video games. Between mall culture and convenient credit, it's easy to spend your time spending money.

Shopping shifts into high gear around the holidays. Some people view shopping as a sport, some as a chore. For others, the season is just another occasion to wrestle with compulsive buying -- especially if they're stressed or depressed.

For these folks, the mere thought of visiting a store any time of year can ease anxiety. The obsessive, uncontrollable act of shopping, even without buying, offers them fleeting excitement. Once home, compulsive shoppers who do buy often feel remorse, with maxed-out credit cards.

Almost 18 million of the American population are compulsive buyers. Compulsive shopping is a growing problem in our society because of easy access to credit, Internet shopping, and television shopping networks. It is also often associated with another disorder, such as anxiety or depression.

Who's affected?

Compulsive buyers include men and women of any ethnic, social, or economic group and age, with growing prevalence among teens and young adults. The majority of compulsive shoppers are women. Often shopping becomes an issue because it begins to interfere with the ability to function in life. Overspenders describe a preoccupation with thinking about shopping, with tension building until they have a shopping excursion, which relieves the tension.

Many compulsive buyers shop not necessarily for things they want or need, but to fulfill much deeper emotional needs. Whether a symptom of a larger problem or a disorder in itself, what underlies compulsive buying is often an internal void that the person is trying to fill.

The price tag

When they shop, compulsive shoppers get smiles from sales clerks and feel successful for spending. But those feelings don't last. Compulsive buyers with high debt can face financial, relationship, and legal problems. This makes them feel so bad they go shopping again -- and the cycle continues.

But it is a cycle that can end. First, the person has to recognize that he or she has a problem and wants to stop. Then, positive action is necessary to modify the behavior and get to the root of the problem.

There are always other, more constructive ways to meet the needs that motivate a person to walk into that store in the first place. Compulsive buyers have to take stock of themselves and ask, 'What am I really shopping for?'

Are you a compulsive buyer?

These are signs of compulsive shopping:

  • You think more than you want to about shopping.

  • You prefer to shop alone to avoid embarrassment or distraction.

  • You shop for longer time periods than you intended.

  • You buy more than you planned.

  • You buy things you don't need or want.

  • You hide what you buy to avoid conflicts at home.

Stopping the shopping

Here are ideas on how to end compulsive buying:

  • Admit that you have a problem.

  • Seek professional therapy.

  • Medication for depression and anxiety has been helpful for some people.

  • Join Shopaholics Anonymous or another self-help group.

  • Destroy your credit cards or leave them at home.

  • Stay away from stores that tempt you.

  • Shop with a friend who'll limit impulsive buying.

  • Decide what you want to buy before you go.

  • Avoid shopping after upsetting events or while you feel emotions that fuel compulsive shopping.

  • Find more constructive ways to deal with negative emotions. Take an art class, for instance, or go for a walk.