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Compulsive Shopping

Lucy Costigan

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People engage in compulsive buying or spending on occasion, particularly at Christmastime when they get caught up in the excitement or pressure of buying. While most people keep their spending under control, some may develop a more serious problem. They buy far more than they need and most of it they will never use. It sometimes results in thousands of euros of debt. This is called oniomania or compulsive shopping.

In a society that thrives on materialism, compulsive shopping is frequently overlooked as a problem and may even be treated as a joke. Compulsive shoppers are often dismissed as being financially irresponsible. However compulsive shopping can be devastating not only financially, but also mentally and emotionally.

Most mental health professionals do not consider compulsive shopping an addiction because there is no physical dependency as with drugs or alcohol, but oniomaniacs do display addictive behaviour. High percentages of shopaholics are addicts or former addicts of other substances or activities including drugs and alcohol. Oniomania can affect either sex but the vast majority of compulsive shoppers are adult females. There have been few studies done on compulsive shopping, but those that have been done indicate that as much as 10% of the adult population display tendencies towards compulsive shopping.

According to Catalano and Sonenberg (1993) (Consuming Passions: Help For Compulsive Shoppers, New Harbinger Publications, California) a huge amount of energy, both physical and psychic is expended by compulsive shoppers that could be channelled into a more fulfilling and worthwhile pursuit. “The real energy expenditure for compulsive shoppers comes in terms of worry. Planning shopping errands might be fun, but facing the music after a shopping binge is emotionally draining. Facing angry creditors is frightening; facing your own dwindling bankbook or angry spouse is humiliating. When shopping habits involve lying about and hiding purchases, the mental, physical, and emotional toll goes up. ”

Compulsive shopping typically occurs in cycles. Depression, boredom or emotional distress such as a bereavement or breakup of a relationship may set off an impulse to shop. Shopping gives shopaholics a sort of euphoria, excitement and “high”. They are very susceptible to advertising and will buy things to make them feel more powerful, attractive, or secure. There is usually a feeling of disappointment afterwards, followed by guilt over the wasted money or the increase in debt. This leads to depression, which can set off another episode of compulsive buying.

A major sign of compulsive shopping is the tendency to shop and spend large amounts of money during times of depression or emotional distress. Buying excessive amounts of items that never get used or worn, especially if they already possess these items at home is an indication of compulsive shopping. Compulsive shoppers often have wardrobes full of clothes that they have never worn. Unused items are frequently disposed of, sometimes in the original packaging or with the tags still attached. Lying about shopping or the amount of money spent, or running up large credit card debts usually indicate a problem with shopping.

Excessive shopping may lead to serious financial problems and may interfere with work and relationships. Treatment of compulsive shopping may be more complicated than treating a physical addiction, like drug or alcohol abuse, because shopping is not something that can be avoided altogether. Treatment of compulsive shopping is similar to that of compulsive overeating in that the pattern of compulsive behaviour must be addressed in order to get the shopping to a normal, healthy level.

Compulsive shoppers may need to avoid temptation, such as making funds difficult to access or distracting themselves with a more fulfilling activity when there is an impulse to shop. While these methods can greatly contribute to recovery, professional help from a psychotherapist, a hypnotherapist or NLP practitioner is still essential. It is vital that the emotional and psychological problems are identified and treated. Without proper treatment, compulsive shoppers may stop shopping only to engage in other compulsive or addictive behaviours in its place.

Extract from “Women and Healing”, by Lucy Costigan, published by iUniverse (2006)

Lucy Costigan’s career has been quite eclectic. She has worked as a magazine editor with Wexford Life, a technical writer, an analyst-programmer, a counsellor, and a programmes’ facilitator. Lucy holds Masters Degrees in Equality Studies (UCD, Ireland), and in Research (NCI, Ireland). From an early age Lucy has been on a quest to discover the ultimate meaning of life.

Lucy's books have been reviewed on RTE (Ireland's National Television and Radio stations), on BBC radio, and in various international publications. RTE’s popular Sunday Show dedicated a full-length program to her book Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace (Columba Press, 1998).

Lucy’s books include: Irish Guide to Complementary and Alternative Therapies (Wolfhound Press) Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace (Columba Press) Winter Solstice: A Novel (iUniverse) Social Awareness in Counselling (iUniverse) What is the Meaning of Your Life (iUniverse) Course in Consciousness (iUniverse) Women and Healing (iUniverse) The Transformation of Yvette (iUniverse).

Lucy lives in her native town of Wexford, Ireland


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