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Shannon Koehle: When Shopping Becomes An Addiction

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By Shannon Koehle
EmpowHer.com's Health Reporter

Household closets overflow with garb. Items still wear their price tags. Unworn shoes peak out from under the bed. Credit cards reach there limit.

These are signs of shopping addiction.

According to a 2006 Stanford study, 6 percent of Americans may be considered compulsive shoppers.

Composed of five forms of addiction – compulsive, trophy, image, bargain, and codependent – compulsion seems to be the most common shopping addiction.

Like gambling, compulsive shopping is considered a less intense branch of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), said licensed professional counselor Ellen Canacakos. These two addictions are analogous to one another; both involve spending money, raise serotonin, a positive chemical produced in the body, and decrease stress.

Canacakos says this type of instant gratification is fantasy and often behaviorally learned.

For this reason, shopping addictions generally start in the teenage years or early twenties and progress from there, says psychologist and author of “I Shop Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self,” Dr. April Benson.

Unlike alcoholism and OCD, the word shopaholic is used in the media to attract buyers. Canacakos says this may occur since many individuals, particularly women, rely on retail therapy as a distraction from personal dilemmas.

Those who experience shopping addiction often spend a significant amount of their money of material items, purchase impulsively, wear many items only once, shop when more important responsibilities should come first, and feel guilty about their behavior.

Like its counterpart addictions, any form of shopping addiction can lead to consequences.

As the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery says, “Compulsive shopping or spending may result in interpersonal, occupational, family, and financial problems in one’s life.”

More specifically, Canacakos says long-term consequences may include indebtedness, the inability to handle stress, shame, or depression, and the destruction of relationships.

Though it is a daunting tasks to change one’s shopping addiction, Canacakos says, cognitive and behavioral exercises may help. These include breathing exercises, meditation, and fantasy projections to mentally divert one’s adrenaline rush from shopping to another outlet.

She says this addiction, like any other, is difficult to break because “it does represent adaptive strategies that make you feel good for a short time.”
Similarly, like other OCD and other addictive behaviors, shopping addictions can be controlled with prescription medications.

Shopping Addiction

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