ADHD and Shopping Addiction

Community Member

Today it is easier and more tempting to shop than ever before. There are department stores, shopping outlets and malls which resemble indoor cities complete with amusement park rides. If you don't feel like getting into your car there are shopping channels which air 24 hours a day, selling anything from jewelry to sweaters for your miniature schnauzer. And if all this doesn't satisfy your need to shop, there is also the lure of the Internet. You can purchase anything you want with a few clicks and a credit card. With all of this temptation, is it any wonder that some of us may be in trouble with our shopping habits? You add ADHD to the mix and it could be the recipe for credit card debt disaster.

The reason why some people with ADHD may be more prone to overspending and running up huge credit card debt is due to impulsivity.   Impulsivity makes it difficult for those with ADHD to think through the consequences of their actions and instead react only to what they are feeling at the present time. One of my most impulsive purchases was a couch I insisted that I needed right then and there. I refused to even wait for the store to deliver it and demanded my partner tie it on the roof of the small hatchback car we had at the time. We barely made it home as the car struggled to get up the steep hill to our apartment. In retrospect I had no idea what possessed me to "need" a couch that badly. Impulse buys seldom make much logical sense. If many of your purchases are based upon an "I need this now or I will die" feeling, then you may have an impulse spending problem.

Another reason why individuals with ADHD may be more susceptible to purchasing things on impulse is that they may have co-morbid conditions in anxiety or depression. Shopping can be a way of self medicating to temporarily lift one's spirits or even ease anxiety. Yet this method quite often backfires when the shopping habit spirals out of control and you can no longer pay your bills. For some, the compulsive need to buy things becomes extreme enough to be labeled as a "shopping addiction."

The official term for shopping addiction is "oniomania." When I first heard this word, I thought it was some sort of excitement for onions. But in fact, "oniomania" is a term derived from the Green "onios" which means "for sale" and "mania" which means "insanity." You are not going to find shopping addiction, oniomania, or as it is also sometimes called, "shopoholism" in the DSM-IV American Psychiatric Association Manual. Few recognize shopping as a formal addiction, but some experts say that there are many similarities to other addictions, including feeling a "high" from shopping as well as guilt and shame from engaging in compulsive shopping behaviors.

What are the signs that your shopping habits may be a form of addictive behavior?

  • Are you shopping when you feel depressed or anxious to make yourself feel better?

  • Are you spending beyond your means? Have you maxed out one or more of your credit cards?

  • Are you buying a bunch of stuff that you really don't need? Is your closet full of unworn clothes, for example, with the price tags still on?

  • Do you feel a "high" from shopping?

  • Do you hide your purchases or credit card bills from significant others? Do you feel guilt or shame after going on a spending spree?

  • Do you make purchases only to return them later because you feel guilty?

  • Is your spending causing you financial hardship that you cannot seem to find a way to resolve?

If you are answering yes to more than a few of these questions, you may wish to consider seeing a therapist to help you to discover the emotional reasons for your overspending behaviors. We also have a shopping addiction quiz you may wish to take. Just remember that this quiz is for your self assessment only and not to be used as a substitute for a therapist's diagnosis or guidance.

How can I decrease my impulsive spending?

  • Our Eileen Bailey gives this advice about how to curb your impulse purchases:   For impulsive shoppers, keep a notebook with you divided into "wants" and "needs." For items that are in the "want" column, put off purchasing for a certain amount of time, such as one week. Chances are you might not even remember why you wanted the item in the first place later and the desire to have it may be gone.

  • Deborah Gray gives additional suggestions of how to get a handle on your shopping behaviors in her post, Controlling Impulse Spending. These suggestions include: Using a debit card or cash instead of your credit cards, planning your shopping trips ahead of time by creating a list and only buying those things on your list, and using computer finance programs like Quicken to keep track of your purchases. Deborah reminds us that it can be sobering but effective to see what you are spending your money on in black and white.

  • Some people recommend that you destroy all your credit cards except for one for emergencies or for those items you absolutely have to purchase with your card. One forum member talked about putting her credit card in the freezer making it harder to access.

  • Shop with a loved one or friend who can help you to set boundaries on your shopping. Don't go shopping with a buddy who encourages you to spend more than your means.

  • Distract yourself with other activities. Instead of shopping spend some time with your friends or loved ones doing things which do not require making purchases. Take a walk, spend time with nature, watch a movie, read a book, write, draw, paint, sing, or anything else which gives you pleasure. When you do shop, make it meaningful and conscious. Buy only things you truly do need.

Compulsive shopping can be a serious problem for some. In the extreme, it can become an addiction which can cause financial ruin, as well as place an irreparable strain on your relationships with loved ones. If you feel that your overspending is out of control it is time to get some outside help from a mental health practitioner or an organization such as Debtors Anonymous.

Do you feel that you have a problem with impulsive shopping? Has your behavior escalated to the point of serious consequences such as not being able to pay your bills? Do you feel that your ADHD has contributed to your overspending? Tell us your story. We would love to hear from you.