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5 clues you may be a shopping addict

By Vanessa Santilli

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For some people, there comes a point when "retail therapy" gets so out of hand they need regular therapy to deal with it. Shopping addiction -- defined as excessive, impulsive and out-of-control spending -- is a very harsh reality. shopping-addiction

In a culture where it's abnormal not to shop in your spare time, it can be tough to know whether your habit has developed into a full blown shopping addiction.

To better understand if your spending habit has crossed the line -- and how to beat it -- here's the skinny from the experts.

Credit card as enabler
Keep in mind that it's easier to be in denial about a compulsive shopping addiction when you have a credit card, says psychotherapist Nicole McCance, who is the Toronto-based author of the bestselling book 52 Ways to Beat Depression Naturally.

"Your credit card is your best friend because it affords you this lavish lifestyle but it's also your worst enemy because it's the thing that bites you once a month when you get your bill," says McCance.

Psychotherapist Rhonda Katz says it's important to remember that credit cards take away the visual cash exchange. "Similar to the cognitive manipulation by a casino using chips, it's much easier to throw down a red or yellow or black chip instead of using currency," says Katz.

Clues you may be addicted
If you think you may have a shopping addiction, here are five warning signs to look out for: 

1) You feel out of control. Like most addictions, there's an obsessive quality to a shopping addiction, says McCance. "You don't have control over the obsession -- which is the thoughts -- and then the compulsion, which is the action."

2) You use shopping to cope. Notice your mood when you shop, advises McCance, who says that shopping addicts are often "self-medicating." Do you tend to take out the credit card on the days that you're tired or feeling bad about yourself and depressed? 

3) The repercussions are serious. Your shopping is causing financial problems, pushing you way outside your comfort zone.

4) You feel ashamed. Are you shopping alone? "The behaviour may give rise to feelings of embarrassment if others know about it," says Laurisa Dill, psychotherapist at The Mindfulness Clinic in Toronto. 

5) It gives you a rush. Pay attention to the highs. "For some, the act of the hunt, the salesperson's interaction, the momentary pleasure of purchase spikes dopamine in the brain," says Katz. "Sensory buzz from malls, personal attention, validation and fawning from sales staff all contribute to the pleasure of the activity."

How to beat the compulsion
The first step is acknowledging without blame or guilt that your shopping is upsetting and detrimental -- and that you're not alone, says Dill. "The second step is to become more aware of the details of how, where and when it occurs so that you can make a plan to change it.

There are reasons why this compulsive behaviour has come about that are not necessarily your fault, but that you are responsible for, she adds. "Detailed and accurate self-monitoring -- tracking the urges and behaviour -- is a key part of becoming responsible."

Making a commitment to being open and honest with at least one trusted person can go a long way. To sort out the deeper emotional reasons as to why you're breaking the bank, Dill suggests addicts seek professional help. 

If you're not covered by extended health insurance or cannot afford fee-for-service counselling, you can ask your family doctor to refer you to a counsellor or psychologist that is covered by your provincial health plan.

Everyday steps to getting back on track 

  • Look at your receipts. "When a lot of shopping addicts go to sign their bill, they don't even look at the amount," says McCance. "They just sign and they have no idea they just spent $1000 on clothes that day."
  • Put it on hold. "One of the main issues with shopaholics and shopping addicts is instant gratification. Often, when we don't gratify, the urge or compulsion reduces."
  • Find healthier ways to reduce stress. "Exercise, be with friends, meditate and engage in meaningful, pleasurable activities," adds Dill.
See related: 5 practical tips to tame impulse shopping

Published: April 10, 2013