Signs of shopping addiction and how to break the obsession

It’s the time of year when shopping malls become busier than usual, as people flock to stores in hopes of finding holiday deals. Despite the sales, all the spending can send some people into the red, though – especially those who are addicted to shopping.

With online shopping making spending easier than ever, statistics show at least at least 6 percent of the population has a problem, and possibly 20 percent of women.


recent poll by the Bank of Montreal shows Canadians’ impulse shopping costs them $3,720 annually, with 59 percent of Canadians surveyed admitting they shop to cheer themselves up.


A new US survey shows 47 per cent of adults spend more than they can afford during the holidays, and 36 per cent go into credit card debt to buy gifts.

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You can watch an interview below with one woman who recently spoke about her shopping obsession on NBC’s Today Show


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How do you know if your love of shopping has gone too far? Registered provisional psychologist Ashley Tulloch says these are some signs of a shopping addiction:

– shopping to get away from, or avoid feelings of depression, anxiety, or insecurity
– spending more now than in the past
– having to justify unnecessary purchases, and often, hoarding those unnecessary purchases
– minimizing spending habits, concealing price tags and receipts
– using credit cards to make the purchases
– experiencing a sense of euphoria in the moment, and then a sense of shame, guilt, and often, embarrassment following the act
– engaging in the behaviour despite it having a significant impact on the person financially, and often, relationally

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Who is more prone to a shopping addiction?

“Someone who thrives off that effect of dopamine in their brain,” explains Tulloch. “So often people who are very extroverted.”

“And often,” she adds, “what we’ll see is individuals who are in recovery for a previous addiction – a drug or alcohol addiction – often engage in shopping and spending to give them that sense of excitement, and pleasure that they’ve been missing since they’ve been sober.”

What is the psychological explanation behind shopping addiction?

Tulloch says the Dopamine Hypothesis is a common theory used in connection with compulsive shopping.

“Dopamine Hypothesis says when we engage in this pleasurable experience of shopping,” Tulloch says, “dopamine, this neurostransmitter in our brain is released into the pleasure centre in our brain and it sends a surge of excitement and euphoria to our brain, and it reinforces the behaviour.”

“Over time and repeated exposure to this rewarding experience, our brain is programmed to continually crave it and to motivate us to seek out that pleasurable experience, more, and more, and more…just like a drug addict or alcoholic would do.”

So how can you break the addiction?

Bank of Montreal has advised consumers to avoid last minute shopping because it most often results in overspending.

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TD Waterhouse has warned shoppers not to be lured in by deals.

“75 per cent of Albertans are influenced by bargains and deals, so if you’re purchasing something because it’s on sale, you’ll automatically go over budget,” Financial Planner Crystal Wong said last holiday season.

Credit counsellors and money mentors have suggested putting away credit cards, and only spend the money you actually have. 

In addition to using cash, here are some other tips Tulloch suggests:

– have a budget and stick to it
– have a specific list of what you’re going to be purchasing and sticking to that plan
– bring someone with you who can hold you accountable
– go during a time where you feel good, not when you’re down and rushed

With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News 

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