I love getting new stuff. I get excited before I buy it and am very disappointed if I cannot immediately get what I want. I love the feeling of instant gratification. But, I do not like shopping.

I enjoy shopping centres because I can do “people watching”. I work from home, so I am not exposed to many people. For me to be in a shopping centre and have all those people around me is like a child in a sweet shop. I do not know where to look first, where to touch and where to leave. Methaphorically speaking off course. I do not go around in shopping centres touching strangers. That will be plain weird.

On the other hand, tell me to go and buy something, like a home appliance or clothes, and I am instantly grumpy. If I need a pair of jeans, I go to one shop, fit some, take the first one that fits okay and that I can afford. No shopping around. I just do not like it.

For many people, this experience is very different. They get high on the act of shopping. People can get addicted to the feeling they get when their brain releases dopamine and endorphins while shopping. They tend to overly focus on buying and feel anxious. The anxiety is reduced or disappears when shopping.

We all go on the occasional shopping spree or spend money we do not have, to buy things we do not need, to impress people we do not like; but that does not make us shopaholics, obsessive shoppers or compulsive buyers (it is called Compulsive Buying Disorder). The odd impulsive purchase is more than okay, but when compulsion starts, we have a problem. After all, we are bombarded by shopping advertisements by the media and shopping is a huge and accepted leisure activity in industrialised society.

What are the signs of being shopaholic, obsessive shopper or compulsive buyer?

  • Lying about how much money you spend, how many items you buy or much time you spend on shopping.
  • Hiding shopping bags, receipts or credit card accounts.
  • Spending more than you can afford, up to a point where you are overwhelmed with debt and have financial problems because of it.
  • Lose control over shopping behaviour, in other words, you buy far more that what is needed. You may also leave the shop or website with things you never planned to buy. A warning sign is unopened or tagged items in your cupboard.
  • Relationships get strained because of over shopping or - spending. This can range from regularly arguing with people who challenge your behaviour, often resulting in alienating them, to divorce.
  • You get a rush of excitement when you shop.
  • Shopping to relieve emotions like anger, depression, anxiety or loneliness.
  • Buying stuff, being overwrought with guilt and shame and then returning them when the guilt kicks in. Or shopping more to reduce the uncomfortable feelings of guilt and shame. The initial feeling may be happiness after shopping, but the dread invariably follows.
  • On days that you do not shop you feel anxious and/or restless and/or irritable.

You can take this self-test, from Shopaholics Anonymous, to see if you have a problem:

  • Do you shop when feeling angry or disappointed?
  • Has overspending created problems in your life?
  • Do you have conflicts with loved ones about your need to shop?
  • While shopping, do you feel euphoric rushes or anxiety?
  • After shopping, do you feel like you have just finished doing something wild or dangerous?
  • After shopping, do you ever feel guilty or embarrassed about what you have done?
  • Do you frequently buy things that you never end up using or wearing?
  • Do you think about money almost all of the time?

If you answered yes to more than three of these question, then you most probably need help.

A lot of people who struggle with shopping addiction, obsessive shopping or compulsive buying, suffer from depression or anxiety. Treating these mental illnesses, can reduce their urge to act out on shopping.

Many shopaholics suffer from emotional issues, approval deficit and low self-esteem. The compulsive shopping behaviour can be addressed by dealing with the underlying issues.

Is there help?

Yip, indeed, there is help.

There are organisations like Shopaholics Anonymous and Debtors Anonymous; but I have been unable to find them in South Africa. That does not mean that a 12 step programme is not available. Get hold of an addiction Counsellor who will be able to assist you. My treatment programme will invariably consist of a combination of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Coaching (new and more effective) life skills and Twelve Step work. We may also have to look at debt-counselling as an additional avenue.

The recovery road is seldom and easy one, but with patience and perseverance, anything is possible.


  1. 10 November 2017
  2. Huffington Post: 10 November 2017