Thanks to smartphones and tablets people can access any store in the world from their bed at 2am, their office, the beach, an airport, even in their car in a traffic jam. Access to stuff right from the palm of our hands is a compulsive shopper’s dream! However this easy access can also become a nightmare. To get to the bottom of what defines online shopping addiction, what to do about it plus a quiz for you to take, we connected with Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a NYC based licensed clinical psychologist, teaching faculty member at the prestigious Columbia University Teacher’s College and the founder and Clinical Director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services.
Compulsive shopping and spending are defined as inappropriate, excessive, and out of control," says Dr. Sanam Hafeez. "Like other addictions, it basically has to do with impulsiveness and lack of control over one's impulses. In America, shopping is embedded in our culture; so often, the impulsiveness comes out as excessive shopping. Sometimes referred to as being a "shopaholic," shopping addiction can wreak havoc on a person's life, family, and finances.
What causes addictive behaviors?
"No one knows what causes addictive behaviors, like shopping, alcoholism, drug abuse, and gambling," says Dr. Hafeez. "Some of the new evidence suggests that some people, maybe 10%-15%, may have a genetic predisposition to an addictive behavior, coupled with an environment in which the particular behavior is triggered, but no one really knows why." While the origin of addictions remains uncertain, why addicts continue their destructive behaviors is better understood. "Individuals will get some kind of high from an addictive behavior like shopping," says Hafeez. "Meaning that endorphins and dopamine, naturally occurring opiate receptor sites in the brain, get switched on, and the person feels good, and if it feels good they are more likely to do it."
"There are certainly a lot of commonalities among shopaholics and other addicts," says Hafeez. "For instance, while alcoholics will hide their bottles, shopaholics will hide their purchases."
Look for signs.
1. Spending over budget. "Often times a person will spend over their budget and get into deep financial trouble, spending well above their income," says Hafeez. "The normal person will say, 'Oops, I can't afford to buy this or that.' But not someone who has an addiction," explains Hafeez he or she will not recognize the boundaries of a budget.
2. Compulsive buying. "When a person with a shopping addiction goes shopping, they often compulsively buy, meaning they go for one pair of shoes and come out with 10."
3. It's a chronic problem. "A shopping addiction is a continuous problem," says Hafeez. "It's more than a once-a-year Christmas spree. Some shopaholics report needing to buy something daily, even if it is a less expensive item; it’s the rush they are after.”
4. Hiding the problem. "Shopaholics will hide their purchases for fear of criticism and having an argument," says Hafeez." They may have secret credit card accounts, too. Given this problem affects mostly women, as alcoholism affects mostly men, husbands will all of sudden be told their wife is $20,000-$30,000 in debt and they are responsible, and many times, this comes out in divorce."
5. Vicious cycle. "Some people will take return purchases back because they feel guilty," says Hafeez. "That guilt can trigger another shopping spree, so it's a vicious circle." And in these people, debt may not be an issue because they're consistently returning clothes out of guilt, but a problem still exists.
6. Impaired relationships. “Like with any addiction, relationships suffer,” says Hafeez. “Trust is compromised because the person covers up debt with deception. They also begin to isolate themselves emotionally and physically once preoccupied with their behavior."
Shopping Addiction Quiz
Answer the following with either sometimes, always, or not at all. Count up the number of “always” responses. Anything more than 4, could be signs of shopping addiction.
1. Do you buy things you want even if you know at that moment you do not have the money to pay for it?
2. Is it difficult for you to save money?
3. When you have some extra cash that you could save, instead, you think of other things you would like to buy?
4. Do you cheer yourself up or give yourself a reward by “going shopping”?
5. Does more than a third of your income go to pay credit card bills, not including rent or a mortgage payment?
6. Have you had to move credit lines because you typically don’t have the money to pay off your credit line?
7. Do you pay the minimum balance on your credit card most of the time?
8. Are you inclined to keep buying more of your favorite things - clothes, makeup, cd’s, books, computer software, electronic gadgets - even though you do not have a specific need for them?
9. When and if you have to say “NO” to yourself, or control yourself from buying something you really want, do you feel intensely deprived, angry or upset?
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