Understanding And Managing Compulsive Buying Disorder
Many people shop frequently—which may prompt some to wonder where the boundary is between a typical consumer experience and compulsive buying behavior. Many healthcare professionals might consider behaviors around shopping to be problematic when it negatively impacts your life, or if it seems difficult to overcome the habit in times of necessity.
Read on to learn more about compulsive buying disorder, and alternative ways to cope—such as working with a qualified therapist.
What Is Compulsive Buying Disorder (CBD)?
Compulsive buying disorder is known by many as a behavioral addiction that is generally characterized by a preoccupation with shopping and a persistent difficulty controlling buying behaviors. This can lead to distress for those who live with the condition.
Recent data from Cleveland Clinic researchers suggests that shopping can release dopamine and endorphins, which are generally thought to be neurochemicals that can impact the brain’s reward center. This area of the brain can also be affected by many forms of addiction or mental health conditions—which can occur alongside CBD.
How Compulsive Buying Can Affect Your Life
Many consumers find it easier to buy in this era compared to other previous generations, historically. The unprecedented level of access that many may experience can present a challenge for individuals with compulsive shopping tendencies. For example: It can be more difficult to ignore the intrusive thoughts insisting that your problems will go away if you buy whatever item you’re considering. However, research shows that compulsive buying (or “oniomania”) can make people feel worse, possibly allowing root-cause issues to go unresolved.
When your spending habits escalate to a compulsion, it can be hard to focus on anything else. As a result, you may notice areas of concern arise in your relationships, work experiences or other areas of your life. However, recognition, validation and therapy can be useful tools to address the range of symptoms and subsequent thought processes that may be associated with compulsive buying disorder.
Understanding The Symptoms Of Compulsive Buying Disorder
While the symptoms of this addictive behavior can vary by person, there are several common experiences that experts have recognized. Understanding these can help many to validate and empathize with those who live with compulsive buying disorder, possibly giving them a better understanding of how the condition can affect one’s life.
- Symptoms can include: Experiencing a rush of euphoria when making a purchase
- Difficulty controlling spending habits
- Spending habit developments that can harm close relationships, your financial situation or other elements of your personal life
- Intrusive thoughts around purchases for emotional validation
- Compulsions to buy things that can make it difficult to focus on anything else
- Frequent preoccupation with shopping, or past or future purchases
- Rapid mood swings and emotional variation, especially around shopping or purchases
- Hiding purchases from accountability partners or relationship members
- Guiltiness around purchases, whether they are needed or not
Extravagant purchases that may or may not be out of your price range
Causes Of Compulsive Buying Disorder
There are many possible causes of compulsive buying disorder. Some believe that the condition may have ties to an evolutionary imperative to collect items for survival. In humanity’s early days, the person with the most things was more likely to thrive.
We’ve summarized additional possible causes of compulsive buying disorder below:
- Recent studies suggest that the risk factors for compulsive buying, particularly online shopping, have increased dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantine.
- Oniomania, or compulsive shopping, is generally more common among people who have materialistic tendencies. The rise of consumerism over the past few decades might lead many to view possessions as a mark of social status, and many with compulsive buying disorder may use their purchases to seek others’ approval.
- Compulsive buying disorder can occur in people who live with self-regulation disorders, low self-esteem and compulsiveness. In these cases, many people with compulsive buying disorder may be easily influenced or more affected by messaging that encourages buying.
Other Mental Health Issues That Can Co-Occur With CBD
Many people with compulsive buying disorder might experience other mental health conditions affecting similar areas of the brain. These can include conditions such as:
- Mood disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Impulse control disorders
- Personality disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders
- Substance use disorders
- Eating disorders
While this is not the case in every occurrence of compulsive buying disorder, these mental health conditions can co-occur or exacerbate the experience of those living with the condition.
Compulsive Vs. Impulsive Shopping
There can be a difference between compulsive vs. Impulsive shopping. According to a 2023 study, shopping addictions may involve both impulsive and compulsive buying habits, which can make them harder to resolve without support. We’ve summarized key differentiating factors below:
Impulsive Shopping: Typically, these purchases are unplanned items you see and choose to buy because you want them.
Compulsive shopping disorder may not occur every time a compulsive shopping purchase is made. However, the disorder can surface when buying habits begin to negatively impact one’s life. Online therapy can help those living with the disorder to reach a higher quality of life.
How To Live Well With Compulsive Buying Disorder
As with many types of addiction, it can be possible to live well as you work to navigate compulsive buying disorder. Many may find support in building a collection of healthy coping mechanisms to help you manage your stress. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, isrecommended by most as a treatment for oniomania, though there are additional lifestyle changes you can make to help manage your symptoms and stress level. We’ve listed suggested changes below:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT can be an effective method to identify and correct negative thought patterns and behaviors, such as the way you view and use money. Many people with compulsive buying disorders can reshape their thinking and behaviors that might be related to spending with the support and guidance of a licensed therapist.
Practical Coping Skills
Establishing various coping skills can help you to manage stress in multiple situations, and it can help you to successfully overcome compulsive buying disorder. One of the primary characteristics of compulsive buying disorder might be to use purchases to cope with stressors, so developing healthy ways to manage stress can help you set positive spending patterns that may mitigate this behavior.
Spending habits with compulsive buying disorder can lead to financial distress. In this case, it may be helpful to seek help from financial experts to learn sensible and realistic buying strategies. You may also learn to build a budget, as well as the habits and steps you need to successfully stick to it. Additionally, financial counseling might help you evaluate purchases before you make them to decide if you truly need the item
Similar to many addictive behaviors, it can be helpful to recognize and admit that you may be experiencing unhealthy shopping habits. If you’re concerned that you have a compulsive buying disorder, you might choose to speak to your healthcare provider or therapist to learn about your treatment options. Working with a licensed therapist can help you develop positive, practical coping skills while identifying and addressing the underlying psychological patterns and compulsions that may be influencing your buying patterns.
How Can Online Therapy Support Those Living With Compulsive Buying Disorder
It can be challenging to overcome addiction. If you’ve been diagnosed with CBD and struggle to manage your symptoms, you may consider online treatment through virtual therapy providers like BetterHelp. Many patients appreciate convenience of attending therapy from home or a secondary safe place, as well as the reduced cost and shorter wait times. Additionally, it can be a helpful tool to keep one accountable with the added pressure of a possible purchase that going out can bring to those living with the disorder.
Is Online Therapy Effective?
According to data from recent studies, online CBT is suggested to be as effective as in-person treatments. Researchers said patients that felt comfortable in the virtual environment generally showed increased results from online CBT treatments, offering comparable benefit compared to those who sought help in-person.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)
- Can shopping be an addiction?
Just like drinking addiction, shopping can be an addiction, and it is quite a serious behavioral disorder. It is called Compulsive Buying Disorder. Individuals with this condition tend to have irresistible and uncontrollable urges to buy, which eventually goes on to be a source of distress to themselves and those around them. It is a progressive and chronic disorder, and most people affected may not notice its effect on time, until they are deep in debt or have been neglected by a loved due to its negative effects.
- What makes one a compulsive buyer?
First, compulsive buyers are addicted to shopping and buying. Their major source of thrill is from getting the item to purchase and then buying it.
Secondly, do you find yourself in a constant state of anticipation for your next buy that you track of time and focus on whatever job you have at hand? This is called preoccupation with shopping, and most people that are diagnosed with compulsive buying disorder have it.
Thirdly, the stages or patterns to compulsive buying. So far, there are four of them.
- Stage 1- commonly called anticipation. The urge to shop start and focus and thoughts shift to purchasing an item or the shopping trip itself.
- Stage 2- commonly referred to as preparation. In this stage, the individual lays the groundwork that would help smoothen the shopping. It involves making lists, exploring potential shopping sites or destinations, looking up items to buy, and talking about where to go shopping or what is on sale.
- Stage 3- This is where the main shopping happens. All the fuss about stage 1 and 2 goes down here. The individual gets to experience the thrill of buying, be it online or in person.
- Stage 4- The anticlimactic end of shopping, the final act which is spending. The individual is sad the shopping experience is over. They may or may not feel shame or guilt over the amount spent.
- How long does it take for compulsive buying disorder to manifest?
It is a creeping condition that is progressive as well as detrimental if left untreated. If you feel at risk or are concerned about a loved one is susceptible to this condition, try to find out the following from them:
- Do they feel anxious when you/they do not go shopping?
- Does buying relief you/them?
- Do you/they sometimes buy things they cannot afford?
- Once you/they get paid, do you/they spend their money on shopping?
- Do you/they have a lot of unsettled debts?
- Is your/their credit card score barely pulling through?
- Have you/they ever overdrawn their account buying things they do not need only to be discarded soon after purchase?
- Do you/they feel guilty or feel judged after you buy something?
- Do you think people would judge you if they knew how much you spend on shopping?
Answering yes to most of the questions posed above are notable warning bells, which could mean that the individual is at risk for compulsive buying disorder.
- Can people with low income have compulsive buying disorder?
They can be compulsive buyers too. A compulsive buyer does not necessarily have to buy expensive items. They could buy at places where prices are lower or on sale.
- Is a hoarder a compulsive shopper?
For those affected with compulsive buying, some may purchase enough items that could easily earn them the title ‘hoarder’. According to the journal of anxiety disorders, 61 percent of hoarders meet the requirement for compulsive buying disorder. However, subtle differences do exist between a compulsive buyer and a hoarder.
The main focus of pleasure for a compulsive buyer is in purchasing, while for a hoarder, it is in the acquisition. Most compulsive buyers have an underlying emotional or psychological issue, which drives them to seek the euphoria that buying brings usually, they have no emotional attachment to the item being purchased; whilst for a hoarder, they tend to go for items that have had some sentimental value to them. Compulsive buyers tend to either flaunt, hide, or even burn their purchase, but a hoarder accumulates these items until there is little to no space in their home.
- Are women the most at risk for compulsive buying?
Although some studies show women are more compulsive shoppers than men, this does not say that only women are compulsive buyers. More recent studies have even found that the ratio of female to male compulsive buyers is slightly similar. Most men refer to themselves as collectors rather than those who are addicted to shopping, but most people seeking treatment for this condition are women.
Even more so, are other risk factors of compulsive buying, which are not gender-specific, such as approval-seeking behavior, personality disorders, and so on.
- If I do not experience any financial difficulty, but I am addicted to shopping, does that still make me a compulsive buyer?
The negative effects of compulsive buying go beyond financial constraints. There are a host of complications and consequences that could arise from shopping addiction. Some of them include:
- Psychological- Anxiety, Emotional distress, guilt, and shame, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, personality disorders.
- Social problem- Strained family relationship, divorce, or separation from spouse, conflict with friends, sanctions at a place of work due to spending time shopping instead of working.
- Legal Problems- Stealing, criminal record, gambling.
- Can compulsive shoppers stop shopping on their own?
Despite the negative effect, both short term and long term, Compulsive buyers cannot stop on their own. That is why for therapy and treatment to be effective, they would need a multidimensional approach. Those who could manage to stop their shopping habits from sheer force of will power alone do not have compulsive buying disorder.
Compulsive buying is more than just buying a lot of clothes, shoes, gadgets; it is an addiction that incorporates obsessive-compulsive elements, poor impulse control, and dysfunctional stress management with underlying psychological issues. Hence, asking the individual to stop on their own without seeking the advice and expertise of professionals could be unfair and rarely successful on their road to recovery.
With the help of the professionals, support groups, family and peers, and the individual in question, compulsive buying can be adequately managed and treated.
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