Behavioral addictions can be just as devastating as other addictions. Compulsive spending often occurs with other types of behavioral health problems. These include mood and anxiety disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders and other impulse control issues. At Promises Treatment Centers, we provide shopping addiction treatment for individuals when these issues co-occur with a substance use disorder or mental health disorder.

What Is Compulsive Shopping/Spending?

Compulsive shopping and spending, also known as compulsive buying disorder (CBD), is characterized by excessive shopping and buying behavior that leads to emotional distress or impairment. A study by Stanford Medicine researchers published in the American Journal of Psychiatry (2006) reports that more than one in 20 Americans are compulsive shoppers. Women are more likely to say they enjoy shopping, whereas men tend to say they collect. Other surveys have found a nearly equal percentage of men and women met criteria for compulsive shopping and spending.

When people consistently overbuy or buy things they don’t need or want, it’s often signals a bigger problem. Seeking out warehouse bargains or the unbelievable sale at the department store doesn’t mean a person is headed toward becoming a compulsive shopper/spender. But excessively accumulating items, exceeding one’s credit card limit, and the inability to resist the urge to shop may indicate that a person is at risk for shopping addiction.

Signs and Symptoms of Shopping Addiction

There are four distinct phases of compulsive shopping and spending: anticipation, preparation, shopping and spending.

Common symptoms of compulsive shopping/spending include:

Shopping alone

People with compulsive buying behaviors tend to shop by themselves. Some will shop with friends who share shopping interests. Compulsive buyers usually view shopping as a private pleasure. They fear embarrassment if someone without such an intense interest in shopping accompanies them.

Shopping anywhere

Compulsive shoppers will shop at any location. They don’t discriminate between high fashion boutiques, discount outlets, garage sales or online shopping.

Not considering income

There is no distinction between income levels when it comes to the compulsive spender. Sometimes compulsive buyers with lower incomes are more likely to shop bargain/thrift/consignment shops than department stores.

Making typical purchases

People with compulsive buying disorder usually purchase the following items in descending order:

  • Clothing
  • Shoes
  • CDs
  • Jewelry
  • Cosmetics
  • Household items

Buying in bulk

While most purchased items aren’t necessarily that expensive, people with compulsive spending habits often buy in large quantities. They may rationalize that it looks good or is a bargain.

Concern from friends and family

Though people with shopping disorders try to hide their spending, family and friends often notice and voice concern about compulsive buying behaviors.

Occurs year-round

Compulsive shopping knows no downtime on the calendar. It occurs year-round. Sometimes compulsive buying ratchets up and becomes a problem during Christmas and other important holidays or around the birthdays of family and friends.

Causes of Shopping Addiction

woman carries multiple shopping bags needing a shopping addiction treatment centerResearch on shopping disorders is in its infancy. Some researchers believe that the desire to acquire objects is a way of dealing with chaos. Compulsive buying provides a feeling of being in control. People with shopping addictions buy an item and feel in control of what they’ve just bought. This is regardless of whether they need it, already have a similar item or can afford it.

Shopping addiction tends to run in families. These families often have individuals with mood and substance use disorders. A study published in World Psychiatry in 2007 found that of 18 individuals with compulsive shopping and spending:

  • 17 had one or more first-degree relatives with major depression
  • 11 had one or more first-degree relatives with substance use disorders
  • Three had first-degree relatives with anxiety disorders

Some behavioral health experts theorize that compulsive shopping and spending may have its origins in childhood. Parents gave presents to their children instead of attention. Growing up, the child sought more material possessions as a means of self-validation.

Age of onset appears to be in the late teens or early twenties. This often corresponds with a child leaving home and the age they establish credit and obtain one or more credit cards.

For some people who suffered emotional or financial deprivation, buying things makes them feel that they’ve passed beyond that unfortunate time. They often buy much more than they need just so they’re adequately stocked and will never go without.

Shopping Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

Behavioral disorders like compulsive buying disorder may co-occur with a number of conditions such as:

Additionally, people with bipolar disorder may engage in compulsive spending as a symptom of the manic phase of their mental illness.

What to Expect at Our Treatment Center

Promises Treatment Centers treat the range of mental health issues that accompany compulsive buying and other unhealthy behaviors. Our shopping addiction treatment plans are personalized and built around several key treatment options that may include:

Individual Therapy

Much of your recovery work from compulsive buying behaviors will take place in individual therapy. Our counselors are trained in approaches that help address the emotional pain and dysfunctional thinking that fuels destructive behaviors. We’ll help you explore difficult experiences like trauma, poor self-esteem and early childhood relationships that may cause you to self-medicate with substance abuse and compulsive spending. Healing the root causes of these issues and developing healthy coping skills can help you feel less of a pull to engage in these behaviors.

Group Therapy

In addition to individual behavioral therapy, you’ll meet regularly with small groups. Group therapy provides a safe space to share with peers who can relate to your struggles. You’ll gain new insight into your problems. You’ll learn better interpersonal skills and develop open, honest connections with peers in recovery.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

People with addictions often have co-occurring mental health disorders. Staff at our addiction rehab treat the range of issues that accompany substance abuse and behavioral addictions. Dual diagnosis treatment includes evidence-based therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing. You’ll also meet with our psychiatric team to determine if medication is an effective complement to behavioral therapy. If  we prescribe antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, we’ll follow up with you regularly to assess improvement and side effects.

Traditional and Alternative Approaches

Our treatment options include both traditional and alternative approaches. You’ll take part in individual and group therapy. You may also engage in a number of alternative therapies depending on your treatment plan. Alternative substance abuse and mental health treatments may include:

  • Mindfulness training
  • Yoga
  • Trauma therapies like EMDR
  • Equine therapy
  • Music and art therapy
  • Fitness
  • Acupuncture

Aftercare Planning

We’ll work with you during your stay at our treatment center to plan for life after you leave. We’ll connect you with resources in your community to help you continue your recovery journey. Depending on your situation and co-occurring issues this may include:

  • Transitioning into an outpatient alcohol rehab or drug rehab programming
  • Individual therapy
  • Support groups like Debtors Anonymous (DA)
  • Appointments with a psychiatrist for medication management
  • Couples or family therapy
  • Promises alumni events

Shopping Addiction Treatment Options

Some psychologists view compulsive shopping and spending as a process addiction. Others view it as more an issue of impulse control than a sign of obsessive compulsive disorder. Medications used in the treatment of OCD generally don’t work as well for compulsive shopping and spending. Behavioral therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) show promise for shopping addiction treatment.

At Promises, our licensed, trained professionals use a combination of CBT and other therapies to help people with addictions and mental health issues who also suffer from compulsive shopping behaviors learn how to cope with emotions. Debtors Anonymous and marital therapy are other techniques our clients may find helpful in the management of compulsive shopping and spending.

Take Back Your Life

We’ll help you reclaim your life from destructive behaviors like substance abuse and compulsive buying. Address underlying issues that are contributing to your problems and learn healthier ways to cope with life’s stressors. Call us today. Our recovery advisors can connect you with life-changing treatment programs:  1.713.528.3709.

Posted on July 21, 2017 and modified on April 13, 2019