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Is Shopping Addiction, or Overspending, a Real Addiction?

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Updated March 05, 2010

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Question: Is Shopping Addiction, or Overspending, a Real Addiction?
Since the popularity of the movie, Confessions of a Shopaholic, it is not uncommon to hear people, particularly young -- and young at heart -- women talk of being "shopaholics." As shopping addiction has become associated with wealthy, attractive celebrities, and characters such as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, who overspent on shoes, it has almost become fashionable to "admit" to uncontrolled spending. But is overspending, or shopping addiction, a real addiction, like alcoholism or drug addiction?
Answer:

Shopping addiction is not currently recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th edition), and there is no agreement among experts on whether it should be included in future editions. However, that doesn't mean overspending isn't a problem.

People with serious problems with overspending can be diagnosed with Impulse Control Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified, a diagnostic label that can apply to a range of excessive, impulsive behaviors, including compulsive buying. Excessive shopping is also given as an example of a behavior that can be a characteristic of a manic episode, as part of bipolar disorder.

It is clear that whether it is called "shopping addiction," "compulsive shopping," "compulsive buying," or "overspending," it shares many features of other addictions, including spending a lot of time thinking about, planning, and repetitively engaging in the behavior, even when it becomes harmful; having difficulty controlling the behavior; and experiencing distress or disruption to other areas of life as a result.

Keep in mind that shopping addiction is only an addiction if it is problematic or harmful in some way, it is not a label that can simply be applied to anyone who enjoys shopping or who spends a lot of time and/or money shopping.

While "shopping addiction" is not officially recognized, there are several treatments that may help with problematic aspects of these behaviors. Effective treatments include individual therapy, group cognitive-behavioral therapy, marital and couples counseling, credit counseling and debt management. In some cases, medication can help, particularly if the behavior is stemming from mania related to bipolar disorder, or from depression, which occurs in around 50% of shopping addicts. Research is still emerging, so in the years to come, we can expect approaches to treating shopping addiction and overspending more effectively.

The bottom line: While shopping addiction isn't officially recognized as a disorder, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. As shopping addiction can be a symptom of serious mental illness, if you or someone you know has "shopping addict" like behavior, you should talk with your doctor as soon as possible.

Sources

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (4th edition - Text Revision). Washington DC, American Psychiatric Association. 2000.

Benson, A. To Buy Or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How To Stop. Trumpeter, Boston. 2008.

Goldman, R. "Compulsive Buying as an Addiction." In April Lane Benson (Editor), I Shop, Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search For Self. Rowman & Littlefield, New York. pp. 245-267. 2000.

Goldsmith, T. & McElroy, S. "Diagnosis, Associated Disorders, and Drug Treatment." In April Lane Benson (Editor), I Shop, Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search For Self. Rowman & Littlefield, New York. pp. 217-241. 2000.

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