Are you a shopaholic? Overcoming the need to buy

Shop, shop! Buy, buy! This is the rallying call during the holidays as retailers try to lure you in to their stores. For shopaholics it can be a difficult time.

“A shopaholic is someone who feels he must shop. The shopaholic would rather go to the mall than do any other activity,” says Luisa Cameli, PhD, Psychology, and Director of the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Clinic which is affi liated with the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC).

When most of us go shopping, explains Dr. Cameli, we consider the pros and cons of our purchase before opening our wallet. A shopaholic doesn’t consider the value of the purchase, because it is the act of shopping and buying that makes him euphoric. “Buying an item, any item, is the high point for shopaholics. It makes them unreasonably happy,” says Dr. Cameli. “Once home they put the bag beside other items bought and the guilt and shame set in and they regret the purchase.”

Link to Depression and Low Self-Esteem Compulsive buying is categorized as an impulse control disorder. A compulsive buyer shops to cope with stress, anxiety, or even happiness—basically any emotional high or low. Shopaholics, about nine per cent of the population, usually suffer from low-self esteem or depression.

Men are just as likely as women to be shopaholics. “It can take people years to admit they are shopaholics and many think they can or should be able to overcome the impulse on their own.” Unmanageable debt, floundering relationships, or job loss are some of the key reasons shopaholics fi nally get help.

One effective treatment for compulsive shopping is cognitive behaviour modification therapy. During therapy, shoppers develop healthy strategies to cope with their emotions. “When you ask someone to give up a behaviour, you need to replace it with another healthier behaviour,” says Dr. Cameli. “You can’t simply instruct them to stop shopping.”

Dr. Cameli admits overcoming the compulsion to shop isn’t easy. A shopaholic can expect ups and downs with the gradual decrease of the bad behaviour and the increase of a healthier behaviour.

A few tips to control your shopping this holiday season

  • Decide exactly how much youcan afford to spend on gifts
  • Decide how many gifts you need and an appropriate amount to spend on each person
  • Go shopping when you’re  at your best, i.e. not tired, hungry, or anxious
  • Use cash only—leave the credit cards at home
  • Set a time limit for your shopping trip
  • Know what you want to buy; don’t just wander in and out of stores
  • If you want an item that’s not on your list, go home and think about it. You can always buy it later
  • Have an emergency plan should you start to lose control, like calling a friend who knows about your problem

To learn more about services offered at the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Clinic, call 514-485-7772.