Is Shopping Addiction Real?

It’s become fashionable in today’s society to call any habit that’s taken too far an “addiction”. That’s problematic because it doesn’t create a distinction between substances that are actually chemically addictive and behaviors that are unhealthy. For example, legal substances like caffeine and nicotine are both addictive in the sense that they alter your body/brain chemistry and you become dependent on them. Your body develops a tolerance and you may need to start taking in more and more to get the desired effect. If you stop cold turkey, you go through withdrawal.

With a behavioral addiction, you are craving the stimulation of enjoyable chemical reactions in the pleasure or reward centers of your brain. Obviously, there’s nothing physically addictive about an American Express Platinum Card, a shopping cart, or a pair of Louboutins (although some women might argue with that last statement). At the same time, quitting an ingrained behavior that’s linked to pleasure can be extremely difficult and cause significant emotional and psychological distress for sufferers. Some experts argue that behaviors like excessive shopping (along with gambling and binge eating) are actually impulse control disorders rather than addictions.

One thing that’s not in dispute is that shopaholics do exist. Of course, you have to go pretty far with a shopping “addiction” to raise any eyebrows in our consumerist society where having lots of credit card debt is viewed as normal. Here are a few of the warning signs that things are really getting out of control:

  • Buying much more than intended almost every time you shop
  • Paying no attention to your budget, even though you know what you can and can’t reasonably afford
  • Avoiding looking at spending statements
  • Hiding your purchases from friends and spouses
  • Setting up secret credit card accounts to avoid judgment over your spending habits

Of course, it’s a lot easier to identify and criticize excessive shopping in someone else rather than in yourself. That’s one good reason for everyone to have friend or partner they can talk to about their personal finances on a regular basis. It’s easier to get a grip when you know there’s no hiding from the truth about your spending habits.

Tags: Shopping