Shopping Addiction: Affecting more and more Americans

Published 11/29 2013 09:50PM

Updated 11/29 2013 09:52PM

CHAMPAIGN -- It's the biggest shopping day of the year, but while you're throwing those discounted items in your cart there could be a highly common disorder coming along for the ride.

It's called shopping addiction.

140 million people are expected to hit the stores this weekend and a big chunk of them suffer from it but have no clue.

The rush of finding a great deal is something anyone would enjoy, but for a large percentage of people it's much more.

"It's a serious problem and a lot of people have it."

Shopping addiction.

Something a lot of people don't consider a real disorder. Dr. Ron Faber is a professor at the University of Minnesota.

He travels all over the country, teaming up with therapists to educate people on the addiction and offer help.

"I was so compelled by the stories and experiences that I just had this need and desire to learn more about it."

He's found 5% of Americans suffer from the compulsive disorder but how do you know you're one of them?

"They are very much into the feels, the smells, the sights, the sounds while shopping. For them, Christmas is a time where they get very deeply into those because the stores have all of these sensations going on."

Faber has found instead of a large balance on their credit card, people with this disorder experience devastating reprocussions.

"I've experienced interviews with many people that have ended up in divorce because of this, people who have ended up in court for writing bad checks to keep the behavior going."

Studies show the holiday season is one of the biggest triggers.

Faber has found it's not the easiest disorder to own up to but anyone experiencing signs should get help.

"It's far more serious and far more devastating to them then people would imagine."

5 ways to beat your shopping addiction:

1. Identify the shopping trigger. What activates a person's urge to shop -- boredom, guilt, shame, anger? Keep a written journal or electronic record and document what leads to the shopping.

2. Discover the need shopping fills. Excessive shopping doesn't serve a functional purpose -- you probably don't need 15 purses -- it serves a psychological purpose bu meeting an unfilled or under-filled need. For the non-shopaholic, it may look like "crazy" or irrational behavior. It's not. The shopaholic is often entirely rational. They shop for a reason -- it fulfills a need, so they keep doing it.
No matter what you do, if you don't find an alternative and healthier way to fill this need, the shopping urge won't fade. So the first step in halting compulsive shopping is to identify the psychological need driving it. Does the shopping provide pleasure, or does it help you avoid pain? In other words, do you shop to feel something you don't feel anywhere else throughout the day (a rush, excitement, variety, stimulation, being in control, feeling naughty), or do you shop to avoid feeling something negative, such as anxiety loneliness or fear? Determine what part of the shopping provides the reward. Is it going with friends (social)? Is it being around others (community)? Is it searching for things? Is it feeling significant? Does the shopping create relationship conflicts so you get attention or a sense of connection, albeit negative? It takes an open mind and guts to analyze yourself like this, but it often provides the answer.

3. Replace shopping with something healthier. The shopaholic needs to find a healthier alternative to filling the need. Brainstorm how you could fill this need in other ways. Often you'll find that someone with one addiction will trade it for another addiction. This is not a positive long-term solution. The goal is to trade in a negative and destructive addiction for one that is positive and healthy, or at least neutral. Sometimes it's just not enough to replace shopping with a healthier habit. In this case, figure out what's more important than shopping. What do you value more in life? Your children, spouse, security, prestige? Whatever it is, you must link how continuing to shop will destroy what you value most. If you value the love from your family and friends, it's easy to see how that you will ruin these relationships if you keep borrowing and spending.

4. Change your environment. Our environment plays a huge role in our behavior. If you keep a bowl of jellybeans on your desk, it's clear what you will snack on throughout the day. Use the environment to your advantage. It makes no sense for the alcoholic to "test" their willpower by having a snack at their local bar, and it makes no sense for the shopaholic to be in shopping malls. Create "no-fly zones" -- places you can't go, such as malls, stores and other shopping areas. You want to remove any ambiguity in your rules. If you don't, then in the heat of the moment the shopaholic will rationalize a way to shop. Make a list of the places you can and cannot go. Eliminate any TV watching (at least in the beginning), and stay from magazines and newspapers. You basically want to remove any cues from the environment to shop.

5. Get support. Kicking an addiction is hard to do alone. Get some help from friends, family or others. Debtors Anonymous <> is a great resource, and they have groups in cities across the country.

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