Shopping Addiction Is A Real Thing And Here's What To Do If You Have It

Two experts have revealed that just like gambling, alcohol and drugs, shopping can also become an addiction and with serious, life-destroying consequences.

Not only are shopaholics at risk of burying themselves in debt but their behaviour can also sabotage their health, wellbeing and relationships according to Suzy Teixeira, hypnotherapist and founder of Hypnohelp Melbourne.

Teixeira sees many people with a shopping addiction -- most of them women -- and told 10 daily that if left untreated, shopaholics can end up bankrupt and alone.

"Online shopping in particular is so easy to do and online retailers send a barrage of emails and notifications all the time. For someone with a shopping addiction, it is hard to remove yourself from the temptation," she said.

Many people with shopping addiction suffer in silence, and when they do seek help, in Teixeira's experience, they're often not aware they have a problem.

"Normally shopaholics come in with something else and once we start to talk that the real problem becomes apparent," she told 10 daily.

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Shopping 'til they drop

Clinical psychologist Dr Sally Hunt from Newcastle University told 10 daily that as with any addiction -- alcohol, gambling, drugs or shopping -- it's important to understand why the person is acting out that behaviour, and not to assume that all shopaholics are doing it for the same reasons.

In her opinion, it's important for people to examine what feelings shopping evokes in them. For some, having more belongings makes them feel safe and secure.

For others, it might be related to their body image, self-image or a need to 'keep up with the Joneses' -- to stay fresh and relevant.

Regardless of the feeling evoked shopping addiction will always have an emotional root, according to Teixeira. "They are buying things to fulfil an emotional need, to make themselves feel better but the high doesn't last long."

The five types

Shopaholics fall into a few different categories depending on the emotional basis of their addiction, Teixeira told 10 daily.

People who feel the compulsion to shop when they are feeling emotionally down or distressed

"These people want to fulfil an emotional need similar to people who use food to feel happy. They get an adrenaline rush but then they return to how they were feeling before they shopped," explained Teixeira.

People who want to be seen as big spenders with all the latest brands and gadgets

"This type is closely tied to self-confidence -- these people don't have confidence in themselves so they seek it out in something they can buy," Teixeira said.

Bargain hunters who buy things on sale that they don't need

"With these shopaholics, I like to go back in time to find out what caused them to feel like they were lacking -- perhaps it happened as a child or teen and now they're an adult they compulsively buy things just in case they might need it in future so they won't feel that sense of lacking again," she said.

Bulimic shoppers who continually buy and return items

"Again this is similar to food addiction,' Teixeira explained. The person goes shopping and buys a dress, for example, goes home and wears it a few times then returns it.

It's all about the risk and reward. "They think, 'if I can do it, I'll do it -- it's exciting to do it again and again," she said.

Obsessive-compulsive shoppers that must have the perfect item or one in every type and colour

As with the 'big spender' shopaholics these obsessive-compulsive shoppers also tend to have issues with self-confidence and self-esteem.

"They normally have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder anyway -- they want everything to be perfect and to be in control," Teixeira said.

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When it's a problem

So how do you know when your shopping habit has turned into a full-blown addiction?

"With any addictive behaviour the factors you want to look for are whether or not the behaviour is having a negative impact on your daily life," Dr Hunt told 10 daily.

Are you shopping instead of paying the rent and bills or feeding your family -- that's a problem, she explained.

The worst case of shopping addiction Teixeira has treated was a lady who was "buying everything and had a room full of newly-purchased stuff that was so full she couldn't go inside."

Putting down the credit card

If your shopping habits have become a problem then it's time to take action.

"The first thing to do when you're looking to change a behaviour is to realise that changing behaviours is hard -- if it was easy we'd all be our best selves," said Dr Hunt.

The next step is to be fully aware of your problem -- "you need to do it yourself not because someone else is telling you to," she explained.

In terms of seeking professional help -- which is absolutely acceptable and shouldn't be something to be ashamed of -- Dr Hunt recommended a type of therapy called motivational interviewing which can help people identify their own areas that need change.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is also helpful when attempting to make a change.

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According to Dr Hunt, it's not necessarily about cutting up your credit cards and going cold turkey, either.

"Some people find that works well but others would never make a start if they had to stop entirely -- a harm minimisation approach where you make small changes over a period of time is often better but it depends on an individual," she told 10 daily.

Others are turning to hypnotherapy to address their shopping addiction according to Teixeira.

"Hypnotherapy works with the unconscious mind to treat disorders of an emotional root," she told 10 daily.

"It's very successful with treating shopping addictions -- it often takes just 6 to 15 sessions of hypnotherapy to break the cycle," she said.

Feature image: Touchstone Pictures.