Shopaholic Debt and The Battle of The Splurge


As with most psychological disorders, when a habit starts to put other areas of your life at risk, it is generally classified as a disorder and the same applies to bad shopping habits and a diagnosis of shopaholism, compulsive buying disorder (CBD), or oniomania.

Your job may be at risk because of constant online shopping, while your health and energy levels may be suffering due to engaging in excessive physical activity during your daily shopping marathons. Your personal relationships may be taking strain, as dishonesty, overspending and secretive hoarding may be creating conflict between you and your partner.

You may isolate yourself frequently due to overwhelming feelings of depression, anxiety, shame or guilt experienced after indulgent shopping sprees. In most cases, shopaholism leads to debt, which inevitably comes with its own set of devastating complications.

Allocating so much of your money, energy, time and other vital resources to shopping will invariably leave you feeling empty, depleted and lonely, as though your life has little meaning or substance.

Emotional Shopaholics 

Emotional shopaholics are addicted to retail therapy, as a means of alleviating bad feelings or lifting themselves out of a depressive mood.  This category of shopaholics experiences a flood of dopamine to the nucleus accumbens of the brain during shopping, creating a sensation similar to that of taking cocaine or engaging in sex.

However, this euphoric feeling doesn’t last, thus, the mood of the emotional shopaholic plummets into depression soon after the retail excursion is over. This mood dip is accompanied by dread, guilt and humiliation over the amount of money spent during the splurge.

Emotional shopaholics use sprees to fill up a perceived hole or void in their lives, much like emotional over-eaters, who attempt to diminish a sense of emptiness with large amounts of food. Therapy involves uncovering the emotional roots of the shopping habit and finding a healthy alternative to meet those same needs.

For example, if you are shopping to banish an emotion of being unworthy, focusing your sights on a career goal instead may be a far more rewarding way to bolster your self-esteem.

Bipolar Shopaholics

The manic high experienced by bipolar individuals often incites them to go on rampant spending splurges. In fact, out-of-control shopping is often a presenting symptom of bipolar. These shopaholics believe they can act without consequences during a high, have a false sense of entitlement and can’t bring themselves to care about all of the money they are wasting.

Accordingly, they spend what they don’t have, taking out loans and credit without a thought about the debt they are accumulating, or the fact that they can’t afford to pay the money back. As shopping is a socially approved activity, the disorder may go unnoticed until a Letter of Demand arrives at the front door or lenders begin to phone incessantly threatening to take legal action.

The elated mood a bipolar shopaholic experiences can present well before the splurging begins and last long after the spree. These individuals benefit from taking medication that regulates their moods, such as lithium, to keep their emotional ups and downs in check, subsequently limiting their manic spending.

Obsessive Shopaholics

Obsessive shopaholics experience senseless, intrusive thoughts that compel them to shop and often feel obliged to replace devices that are in perfect working order with newer, ‘better’ ones or to buy an excessive variety of the same item. Obsessive shopaholics don’t experience a high from shopping but instead feel the need to shop in order to feel normal.

They are uncompromising in their perfectionism, imagining themselves as moving towards some sort of ideal or sense of completeness by purchasing ‘increasingly superior’ models of appliances, or via buying a dress in every available colour.

Compulsive shopping behaviours can be controlled by prescribing an antidepressant such as Prozac, which is thought to boost serotonin levels.  Exposure and response prevention therapy have shown promising results in curbing obsessive-compulsive sprees, consequently, helping the individual to refrain from indulging in debt accumulating behaviours.

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