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Can Shopping Be Addictive?


Retail therapy is one of those phrases we laughingly use to describe our shopping habits. Feeling down? Have a splurge and buy some new clothes. Upset? Some new makeup might do the trick. Worried? A new car just might help to chase the blues away.

In actual fact, shopping can easily become addictive and spiral out of control, resulting in huge debt and increased stress, which in turn escalates the addiction. It’s a vicious circle and creates a habit hard to break.

What is addiction?

Addiction, briefly, is described as “being enslaved to a habit or practice to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.” Understandable when used in relation to alcohol dependency, reliance on prescription drugs or narcotics and cigarette smoking. But surely simply giving up on overspending in shops won’t create this “trauma” or the withdrawal symptoms experienced with other addictions?

Symptom Of A Deeper Unease

Like many addictions, there is often a reason behind excessive retail therapy. It can often be a way to control negative feelings. During the buying process brief periods of elation can be felt which often quickly disappear leaving feelings of guilt or shame. Frequently the items that were so dearly coveted are stuffed into a wardrobe or drawer and left unused, because to the addict they symbolize a moment of weakness and exaggerate a feeling of unworthiness. Hiding purchases from others is akin to secreting bottles of spirits in hidey-holes so that no one realises there’s a problem.

Often, the negative feelings, which create the urge to shop, are a result of an unsatisfactory home life, problems at work, stress and lack of self-confidence. Emotional and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety can instigate compulsive buying sessions, and on a deeper level, past abuse or other trauma can lie at the root of the problem.

What Lies Ahead

Once an addiction to shopping takes a hold on a person there comes a point where one of two paths can be taken. Taking the wrong path can cause mounting debt, relationship problems and deprive families of necessary purchases. In the worst-case scenarios, homes and possessions can be lost in an effort to lessen the debt or produce more money to fund the habit. One of the most precious resources is also lost – time. Time spent on shopping, worrying, feeling guilty and experiencing negative emotions is time that can never be recaptured. And time is much too valuable to waste in this way. Life is short so make the most of it.

Taking the correct path and admitting there is a problem is a huge and brave step. It can involve tears and outpourings of self-loathing. It may involve medical help, therapy and treatment for the underlying problems. But tackling difficulties head on and doing something about them can create an improved and enduring feeling of elation than the one experienced by shopping. Getting that feeling of control back into everyday life is a heady sensation.

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