How Spending Can Be an Addiction and Impact Recovery


From groceries to utilities to health care, we must all spend money on specific things that improve our quality of life. Because the things we buy every day help fuel our local and national economies and create new jobs, politicians have historically issued stimulus checks to millions of Americans to help pull the nation out of various financial crises.

Elected officials repeat the message that shopping is a civic responsibility, and advertisers reinforce a refrain that buying their products will solve your problems. Consumerism is a quintessentially American way to prove your self-worth and keep up with the Joneses. As a result, you might not see how spending could become compulsive or problematic. However, shopaholism is a genuine disorder.

What Is a Shopping Addiction?

Compulsive spending shares many characteristics with other behavioral or process addictions and substance use disorders. For example, many people shop to find relief from mental health issues such as anxiety and depression or fill a perceived void in their lives. Shopping addicts also exhibit chronic patterns such as experiencing a buildup of anticipation before a purchase and a sense of satisfaction afterward.

Much like the increased tolerance associated with substance abuse, as a buying compulsion increases in severity, you may find yourself needing to spend more often or in higher amounts to achieve the same effects on your mood. While you might not experience any physical withdrawal symptoms when trying to spend less, you could feel emotionally unsatisfied or sense that a meaningful part of your life is lacking.

Warning Signs of Shopaholism

One way to tell if spending has crossed the line between an occasional pleasurable pastime and a compulsion is if you continue to shop despite negative consequences. For example, if you are in debt and struggling to make ends meet due to your overspending, but you still have a nearly unquenchable urge to keep buying things, you may need to seek counseling.

Often, people who go on to become shopaholics have low self-esteem and believe surrounding themselves with material objects can help them win status or approval. Since online shopping requires no in-person contact and allows buyers to remain anonymous, people with social anxiety or agoraphobia are especially susceptible to this compulsion.

The Dangers of Compulsive Behaviors

In some cases, a spending dependency and substance misuse can be intertwined. For example, because your inhibitions are lower while you are intoxicated, you may impulsively buy things you don’t need or can’t afford. More than 20% of respondents to one recent survey admitted to shopping under the influence.

When self-destructive urges overlap with each other, experts call it a “cross-addiction.” You might be at risk for this if you stop drinking or using drugs, but then find yourself overspending to substitute for your former behaviors.

One overarching goal of maintaining lifelong sobriety is to reclaim control over your life, your activities and the decisions you make. Compulsive shopping is a behavior you’ll need to avoid if you are hoping to impose more self-discipline and stick within the structure of a recovery program.

Are You Dealing With Addictive Behaviors?

Achieving moderation in all facets of your life and striking a balance between work and leisure activities is essential. At Rising Roads Recovery, our small, recovery-oriented community consists of women who are all working toward similar goals. We can teach you how to overcome your challenges and equip you with practical strategies for managing addictive behaviors. Connect with us to learn more.

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