Simple retail therapy or serious mental health issue?

Online shopping is convenient but also comes with a high risk of forming an addiction; it's a real problem that's needs to nipped in the bud

online shopping with smartphone and a cup of black coffee on table

Did you know that Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary was addicted to shopping? She ran up bills on credit and then tried to hide it from her husband. My goodness I’ve done that. Does that mean I’m addicted? Let’s look at exactly what constitutes being addicted to online shopping.

Do you get a feeling of manic glee, happiness and joy during the spending process? Is it followed by depression, remorse, guilt and shame in the face of the results of your spending? Do you know the courier delivery guy by his first name? Have you ever taken Cyber Monday off from work so you can shop all day online? Is your credit card simply a legal device you use to charge you 20 per cent interest on money you won’t earn until next month, so you can buy things you don’t need today? Here are signs you may be addicted to on-line shopping:

  • you have a secret postal box so you can hide purchases from your loved ones
  • you have more than one blue recycling bin overflowing with cardboard boxes
  • you are preoccupied with buying because it makes you feel special
  • you have received packages that you totally forgot you ordered
  • your credit cards are maxed out from online shopping
  • you’ve accidentally bought the same item twice or more
  • you secretly online shop at work, at home and anytime you have a minute free
  • you have 20 different mobile apps that help you spend more money
  • you hyperventilate when you read  65% off, 75% off, up to 85% off
  • your shopping has caused a problem with a relationship at home or at work
  • your shopping has caused you to worry about debt
  • you have canceled meetings and family events so that you can shop online
  • you lie about it to friends and family

It’s an addiction, no less

My parents took me shopping twice a year. At Easter we got a brand new outfit head to toe and in September we went to the nearest Sears store and got three outfits for school. Being addicted to online shopping or having a Compulsive Buying Disorder (CBD) was something we would never have understood was even possible. CBD or Oniomania comes from the Greek words; for sale and mania or insanity. It is described as having an obsession with shopping that causes negative consequences. Interesting, because the way to decide if you’re addicted to alcohol is to ask yourself if drinking causes negative consequences in your life.

The high of the buying process is typically followed by disappointment and guilt which creates a need for more shopping so that you can feel that high again. Debt grows and shopping becomes a well kept secret because you’re ashamed of what you’re doing. This affects marriages, relationships, careers and life spirals out of control. The stress and depression it brings can lead to poor health and even suicide. The problem is that as with any addiction, you think you can ‘use’ it successfully this time. You are in complete denial that you even have a problem and that, in itself, is the first sign that you need help. If you say, “Don’t worry, I won’t get addicted”, you already are addicted. You’re like a dog chasing a ball into oncoming traffic, you just can’t help yourself.

If you or someone you know is a compulsive shopper, the struggle is real. It is a severe and growing problem. Psychiatrist Michel Lejoyeux suggests that the best possible treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy. People with online shopping addiction should be “evaluated for psychiatric co-morbidities, especially with depression, so that appropriate pharmacological treatment can be instituted.” I have read about people who have taken anti-depressant drugs to help the situation as well.

The way out

With any addiction the first step to wellness is acknowledging that you have a problem.  Here are the five steps suggested to overcome addiction to online shopping:

  1. Recognise that you are powerless over this addiction and need help. This is not a habit you can change with self-control.
  2. Find a therapist or a support group where you can discuss your issues without judgement. The emphasis is on fellowship.
  3. Be honest with yourself.
  4. Be honest with your family and your bosses at work.
  5. Forgive yourself for any problems you have caused due to your shopping addiction and concentrate on getting better

“I hate online shopping!”, says comedian Nick Marra, “Sometimes my wife makes me sit in the hall holding her purse when she shops online. I used to give my wife $100 to go shopping so I could have peace at home and watch football. I still do but now she spends the $100 bucks, she just doesn’t leave the house.”

If you have a compulsive, destructive and chronic nature of online shopping, please ask for help. or

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