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Risky Business: Compulsive Buying


May. 1, 2017 Mental Health America

For some people, shopping turns into compulsive buying

Compulsive buying is an uncontrollable desire to shop which results in spending large amounts of time and money on the activity. Generally a person who buys compulsively gets the urge to shop in response to negative emotions (not to be confused with occasional “retail therapy”) and often has problems with relationships and finances as a result of their shopping behavior.

The four stages of compulsive buying

  1. Anticipation: Thoughts and urges start. They may focus on a specific item or the act of shopping itself.
  2. Preparation: Research and decision making take place. A person may look into sales or debate about where to go shopping.
  3. Shopping: Shopping happens. This is the so-called, “thrill of the hunt.” The person gets a “high” while doing it.
  4. Spending: Something, or many things, are purchased. The personis sad that the shopping experience is over and may be disappointed about how much they’ve spent afterwards.

Are you at risk for a compulsive buying problem?

If you agree with most of the statements below, it may be time to seek help.

  • If I have money left in my paycheck, I have to spend it.
  • Other people would judge me if they know how much I spend.
  • I buy things that I can’t afford.
  • I’ve overdrawn my bank account buying things that I didn’t need.
  • Buying things makes me feel better.
  • I’m anxious on days that I don’t go shopping.
  • I pay the bare minimum on my credit card(s), but keep charging items.

How is compulsive buying related to mental illness?

People who have Compulsive Buying Disorder often meet the criteria for other mental illnesses as well, such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, eating disorders, ADHD, and a variety of impulse control disorders.
Excessive spending can be a symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder.
Spending sprees may occur during manic episodes of Bipolar Disorder; however, this is different from Compulsive Buying Disorder and spending sprees generally stop once a manic episode has ended.
Compulsive buying is often driven by feelings of anxiety, depression or low self-esteem.

How is compulsive buying treated?

Some professionals classify compulsive buying as an obsessive compulsive disorder, while others liken it to an impulse control disorder [12]. Therefore, there is no one specific treatment for compulsive buying.
Treatment for compulsive buying is determined by a provider after consulting with an individual.
Medication may be used to manage symptoms of underlying mental illness and control unwanted or intrusive thoughts about shopping.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is almost always incorporated into treatment for compulsive buying.
Support groups modeled after 12-step programs have been helpful in dealing with compulsive buying behaviors. Debtors Anonymous (www.debtorsanonymous.org) is one such support group and has meetings at locations across the country.
Other ways of addressing compulsive buying include self-help books and simplicity circles. [13]

 

Take control of spending

  • Keep track of your spending to see if you notice patterns.
  • Set a budget for how much you can spend on shopping. You may want to set weekly limits. Use cash for shopping purposes and keep your credit and debit cards at home when you go out.
  • Identify what triggers the urge to shop or spend, and think about what you can do to manage those triggers.
  • Do your best to avoid the urge to shop for unnecessary items before bills are due or immediately after getting paid.
  • When you have money that is “burning a hole in your wallet,” transfer it to a savings account or use it to pay o˜ credit card balances.
  • If you can’t fight the urge to shop completely, channel it productively. Buy necessities like cleaning supplies or toiletries instead of clothing, electronics or other luxury items.
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