Fri | Dec 1, 2023

Don't be a shopaholic this season

Published:Saturday | December 4, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Heather Little-White, Contributor

Christmas is almost here and there are the usual activities of preparing for the season, including decorating the home, giving gifts and preparing food for family and friends. However, you should be careful not to become a shopaholic, especially with the special shopping days like Black Friday and specialised sales sessions to which you may be invited.

  • Are you a compulsive shopper?

How do you know if you are a compulsive shopper? Assess by answering these questions from

  1. Are you preoccupied with shopping or spending?
  2. Is your shopping excessive, as in buying 12 pairs of shoes or six watches at one time?
  3. Do you buy things you don't really need?
  4. Is your shopping uncontrolled, that is, are you spending money you know you do not have?
  5. Do you typically return, give away, or not use items you've purchased?
  6. Do you spend so much time shopping that it jeopardises your job, family, social life, etc?
  7. Does your shopping leave you guilty, upset or ashamed?
  8. Has shopping led to serious financial or legal problems?
  9. Has shopping caused you to lose a relationship?

If you have answered 'yes' to one or more of these questions, there is a good chance you have a problem. It is important to determine if you are a shopaholic, or on the way to becoming one, so you can try to deter some of the negative problems that may occur in your life.

  • Shopping addiction

Shopping can be an addiction, referred to as omniomania, or compulsive shopping. Elizabeth Hartney, in the About.Com Guide, posts that shopping addiction is perhaps the most socially reinforced of the behavioural addictions. In an age of sales advertising, you are encouraged to feel good by making purchases.

This feeds into the age of consumerism, which measures your social worth and is linked to national economic growth and development. Shopping addiction dates back to the early 19th century and was later cited as a psychiatric disorder.

Some medical professionals feel that compulsive shopping should be considered an obsessive-compulsive disorder, impulse-control disorder (like pathological gambling) or mood disorder (like depression). Some suggest that, along with kleptomania (compulsive stealing) and binge-eating disorder (BED), compulsive shopping be viewed as an impulsive-compulsive spectrum disorder.

  • When is shopping an addiction?

You may be wondering if your normal shopping styles could be considered addictive or classified as an occasional splurge. The difference is that when shopping becomes addictive when it is persons' main way of coping with stress, or they do so to the point that it has a negative impact on other areas of their life. As with other addictions, finances and relationships are damaged, yet shopping addicts feel unable to stop or even control their spending.

Shopaholics are so preoccupied with spending, and they will carefully plan how to spend their time and money in the plazas. It is the ritualised spending of money that counts as addictive shopping, not window shopping.

Shopping, as an addiction, is carefully orchestrated with pre-shopping plans, sometimes detailed on paper, and the shopping act itself which brings ecstatic pleasure providing relief from negative feelings.

  • Quick fix

Compulsive shopping, like other addictions, continues in a cycle, with the thrill of purchase followed by guilt, disappointment and shame, followed by more shopping. Shopping may be a quick fix for:

  1. Depression
  2. Anxiety
  3. Boredom
  4. Anger
  5. Self-critical thoughts
  6. Low self-esteem

It is believed that relief for these negative feelings come fromcompulsive buying, with more positive activity like anticipation for shopping, the actual shopping which brings feelings of elation and euphoria (the fix), according to Donald Black in his study of compulsive shopping.

However, after all of that, shopping addicts finally crash, feeling disappointed particularly with themselves. Unfortunately, the escape is short-lived. The purchases are often simply hoarded; unused and compulsive shoppers will then begin to plan the next spending spree. Most shop alone because they hate to face embarrassment from people who are not shopaholics.

  • Shopaholic profile

While it may be of little comfort, you are not alone with this problem. According to Psychology Today, 18 million Americans, that is, one in 20, suffer from this devastating retail habit which often creates problems in their lives. Usually beginning in the late teens and early adulthood, shopping addiction often co-occurs with other disorders, including mood and anxiety disorders, substance-use disorders, eating disorders, other impulse control disorders, and personality disorders.

Anybody can be a shopaholic, although data indicate that 80-90 per cent are women, the number of men with a shopping problem is increasing, as they are spending more on sporting goods, electronics and car accessories, compared to clothes, shoes and jewellery.

A shopaholic spans cultural and socio-economic lines - from the senior citizen who has a house filled with garage-sale items; the young teacher with rarely used handbags and shoes; the businessman who has to stock up on the latest technology hardware - even when he cannot use them - and the wealthy urban dweller who becomes obsessed with exotic art.

  • Overcoming shopping addiction

1. Admit that you have a shopping problem.

2. Seek help from competent professionals who will be able to offer viable alternatives for help (

3. Use assessment tools to determine the degree of your shopaholism and find links to professional online and in-person individual and group help.

4. Develop strategies for self-help, like using a shopping journal or a wallet shopping reminder card, with questions like: 'Do I really need this?' 'Where will I put it?' and 'Can it wait?'

5. Fortunately, although not yet well researched, compulsive shopping does appear to respond well to a range of treatments, including medications, self-help books, self-help groups, financial counselling, and cognitive-behavioural therapy.

  • For this holiday season

Having admitted that you have a shopping problem, you can take other actions to make this holiday season a happy one for you.

  1. List the items you really need. Find low-budget ways to show appreciation for close friends and family.
  2. Don't use debit or credit cards and chequebooks that are easy to use to pay for items.
  3. Carry limited amounts of cash for your safety and to limit your ability to buy.
  4. Seek financial counselling, particularly if you have run up debts by spending.
  5. Don't focus on advertisements or collect catalogues or leaflets advertising sales.
  6. Avoid impulse-buying of items you have not really had time to think about.
  7. Clearance racks are not helpful to shopaholics, given the temptation to buy the whole rack with what you don't really need.
  8. Resist shopping online, especially when you are bored.
  9. Shop with others who will dissuade you from purchasing excessively or inappropriately.
  10. Reduce your trips to shopping malls and stores, as each time you go you will be tempted to spend money.
  11. Spend time in more pleasant and memorable experiences far removed from shopping to help you break the cycle. You may want to use your time volunteering to bring cheer to the less fortunate in a children's or nursing home.

Controlling shopping is the greatest gift you can give yourself this season. Remember, you are a worthwhile person, no matter how much or how little you own. Simply enjoy the season!

Heather Little-White, PhD, is a nutrition and lifestyle consultant in Kingston. Email comments to