Spending Addiction and the Professional

Do you suffer from a spending addiction? Many professionals do. Like other addictions, it may not be something you yet recognize. 

When most people think about addiction, they think of addiction to alcohol, drugs, or gambling. Yet, like any other addiction, a spending addiction is ….. well ….. an addiction and it can be really serious. 

Often this type of addiction is called an addiction to spending, a shopping addiction, being a shopaholic, compulsive buying, having a shopping disorder or oniomania. 

It is an addiction to a behavior rather than a substance and yet the effects can be as profound as an addiction to a substance. 

Not Necessarily a Joking Matter

We often treat shopping addiction lightly, as if it is a joke. Yet, for those who suffer from it (and their families, co-workers and friends) it is far from funny. The book, Confessions of a Shopaholic written by Sophie Kinsella is a comedic novel about such an addiction problem that has since been made into a romantic comedy movie. The seriousness of someone who suffers from a spending addiction is not necessarily well known in our society due to the blatant encouragement of over-spending we see each and every day.

A spending addiction is when you are enslaved to the habit of shopping to the point where if you are not shopping it causes you to feel trauma. 

Like all addictions, a spending addiction relates to a longing to remove a discomfort and to feel good.  It is an attempt to remove feelings of self-doubt or to push away troubled feelings. In exchange for this immediate sense of relief or gratification, we often ignore the long-term effects of such a spending addiction and its significant implications. 

When does shopping cross over the line from a fun habit or necessity to a serious problem like spending addiction? 

Take the 42 Question Spending Addiction Quiz: 

  1. Do you wonder if you have a spending addiction? (often a total sign you have an addiction – people not addicted to something do not wonder if they are addicted to something).
  2. Do you know more about trendy and designer labels than most people?
  3. Do you feel defensive when someone asks about money you have spent on something?
  4. Do you tend to give others the most lavish or priciest gifts?
  5. When you dine out with friends or associates, is it you who who almost always picks up the tab?
  6. Do you purchase items even when you are low or out of money?
  7. Do you buy things indiscriminately, that is, buy for the purpose of buying with little regard for what the item is, how you will find it useful etc.?
  8. Are your credit cards close to or at their limit?
  9. Have you ever gone on an out-of-control shopping spree to think it was a once-in-a-lifetime (or year, or season) experience, only to do it again?
  10. Do you shop habitually and obsessively?
  11. Do your shopping habits impair your ability to function at work or school (ie. Did you go shopping instead of returning to the office after lunch?).
  12. Has your spending resulted in your credit rating being damaged?
  13. Has a credit card company ever taken legal action against you?
  14. Do you buy stuff that you do not use?
  15. Do you buy stuff that you do not need?
    Does your closet have stuff in it that you have purchased some time ago, never used, still with the tags on?
  16. Do you lie about (either to yourself or others) about how much you have spent?
  17. Do you hide purchases from others?
  18. Are you secretive about your spending habits?
  19. Do you conceal price tags and receipts from others?
  20. Do you have to do a lot of juggling to meet your monthly payment demands due to shopping?
  21. Do you associate with certain people who condone or enable your spending behavior and avoid those people that do not?
  22. Do you find that you increasingly need to spend more and more money and shop more and more frequently in order to get the same level of satisfaction that a less “spendy” and less frequent amount of shopping used to do for you?
  23. When your credit card goes through the machine and the tape comes out of the credit card machine, is it pleasurable for you?
  24. Do you spend time shopping rather than doing other leisure activities?
  25. Has your spending addiction caused you to miss important engagements with friends, family or your job?
  26. Do other members of your family suffer because of your spending addiction? Does your spouse or you have to work longer and more hours to keep up with the credit card payments? Does your spending put a huge amount of stress on your household members because they are wondering how to keep up with everything?
  27. Do you go shopping anyway even when you have had a desire to stop?
  28. Have other people in your household had to give up something important (like dental work) due to your spending habits?
  29. Are you preoccupied with shopping?
  30. Do you use shopping to improve your mood?
  31. Do you use shopping as a reward for good behavior?
  32. Do you rationalize your overspending (e.g. it was on sale, it’s just a little splurge, this was a bargain, etc.)?
  33. Do you feel giddy or “high” when you make a purchase?
  34. Do you feel guilt, regret or shame after shopping?
  35. Do you have “secret” credit cards?
  36. Do you forget purchases you bought?
  37. Do you shop year-round?
  38. Is it hard for you to browse without purchasing?
  39. Can you stop yourself from shopping?
  40. Does shopping preoccupy your thoughts?
  41. If you cannot purchase something you want, do you feel overly angry, upset or frustrated?
  42. Are you often surprised at the amount you’ve spent when confronted by a credit card bill?

If you answered “Yes” to more than a few of the above answers, you probably have a spending addiction. 

What has happened if you have tried to stop – The Good Old Resentment of Others ....

Another sure sign that you have a spending addiction is that you resent others who do not seem to suffer from the same compulsion or need to spend. You may have even tried to curb your spending or exercise “moderation” only to over-spend yet again. 

As a total boozer in the past, (my personal addiction demon) I resented people who could drink “in moderation” when I first stopped drinking. These feelings of resentment were usually followed by a full serving a self-pity. These same feelings accompany a spending addiction.

You may have repeatedly broken promises to yourself about not going on a future binge. 

What A Spending Addiction is Trying to “Buy" 

It is believed that when people have a spending addiction, the real thing they are trying to “buy” is to be liked or admired by others, to feel no self-doubt, to feel successful or feel prestigious. 

The thing is that no matter how much they spend, the feelings of success, prestige, being admired, or being liked either never last beyond the first rush of buying or do not even come in the first place. 

The Professional Person and Their Spending Addiction

Although those who have a spending addiction can come from any background, like many other addictions, a spending addiction can go relatively unnoticed in a professional person. In essence, because it is expected that professionals shop, spend money, and have the means to do so, their spending addiction is not addiction but part of their lifestyle.

The weird thing is that because of the employment stress a lot of professionals face, this leads to anxiety, which then can lead to a spending addiction. The spending addiction has negative consequences including a feeling of a lack of control, increased financial pressure, increased credit card payments, spending beyond a person’s needs etc. These experiences cause increased anxiety which then leads to the need or desire to feel relief through shopping and then the cycle continues …..

Although other members of the public are not immune, professionals are potentially particularly vulnerable to becoming compulsive shoppers.  They are constantly barraged with signals to spend money to demonstrate and define their success. They have often become professionals to look and feel successful. What better way to look and feel successful than to spend money on trendy and expensive items on a continuous basis.

“Spendi-ness” Replacing “God-liness” 

Add to this the fact that shopping is believed to be a “good” thing to do as a citizen as it stimulates our economy. 

Professionals are encouraged implicitly and explicitly not only by popular culture but within their own professions to spend money. Sometimes, unfortunately, it results in them spending money they do not have or mortgaging their futures.

As an example, Darren was a high-end tech salesman for a high-end tech company. His company not only required that he dress in the finest, name brand top of the line suits, they also insisted that he drive and buy a very high-end vehicle (one that he had to lease in order to afford). Despite Darren earning good money, he also had to spend significant amounts of that good money on his image of being a “success.”

The Spending Problem Continuum

Like any addiction problem, the consequences of a spending addiction will range from the mild to severe range.

The problem may begin with raised anxiety and depression caused by an increase in credit card balances, and a fight with your spouse about your spending.

It may then progress to credit card payments being missed (because you are unable to keep up with them), neglect of your family or work responsibilities due to spending time shopping, a preoccupation with shopping, and waking up at night in a cold sweat due to the stress associated with the mounting costs and concerns about how to dig oneself out of the debt hole created. 

It can then move into the severe range with bankruptcy, divorce, foreclosure of a home, severely damaged credit, criminal activity, or loss of employment.

While a spending addiction may not be officially recognized as a medical or psychiatric disorder that is to be treated such as alcoholism (the DSM-IV:  Diagnostic Manual for Mental Health Professionals), its consequences can be serious and severe nonetheless.  

What do you do about it? The Treatment for Spending Addiction 

Like all addictions, you can get over a spending addiction. This does not, however, mean you will likely be able to shop in moderation. 

People addicted to alcohol have to quit altogether and are almost never able to successfully drink in moderation. The same is true with a spending addiction. 

Like other addictions, the usual advice is to engage in individual or group therapy, a step group, a spiritual practice, meditation and understanding the underlying causes of the spending problem. The ultimate goal is of stopping the addiction from ruining your life.  Ultimately, this means for most, totally stopping shopping. Treatment may include learning healthy coping skills for anxiety, stress and poor impulse control. 

Sometimes medication may be used to alleviate depressive symptoms although not everyone agrees with this mode of treatment. 

All of these suggestions have merit and it is important to keep trying every possible way until you are able to stop. 

Yet, like other addictions, conquering a spending addiction is not all about self-control or discipline. It is about understanding the underlying causes and accessing the right tools for help. 

Although it may be important to understand the underlying causes of your addiction, it is also really important to not use those underlying causes as an excuse – “I shop and buy more than I can afford ….. because I did not fit in as a child” is not going the way to go. 

It is also important to access whatever habits, resources, or skills necessary to stop. 

Not everyone agrees that they are powerless over their addiction. Many believe that no matter how difficult, painful, or challenging it is to give up the problem, that dealing with the problem once and for all is a choice. 

All addictions have similar cures and a spending addiction is no exception. 

When I quit drinking I went to AA (I did not at all do the program but wow did it ever get me through some

Saturday nights). 12-step groups work for many people. I tried absolutely everything possible except residential treatment to beat my addiction (I have not had a drink of alcohol now, in like almost 5 years). Seek out a 12-step group and try it even if you feel reluctant. Who knows, it  may be just what you need. 

Do not go to the same places and not expect to ultimately get triggered and fall back into your same patterns. Maybe you can go to the mall 5 or 6 times without going on a buying  binge, but ultimately it will be challenging not to do so. Why put yourself through the hassle and stress? 

When I quit drinking I stopped going to my 2 favorite pubs and bars. I did not even enter them. I also changed my pattern of behavior once I walked through the door at home each day after work (I instantly made a cup of tea instead of pouring a glass of wine). I put away all the wine glasses. I stopped having any sort of wine or cider in my fridge at home or at work. I stopped hanging out with my drinking crowd.  When I had company, they did not drink beer or wine in our home for many months (now it does not bother me even in the slightest). 

Changing these habits assisted me (along with therapy, meditation, the odd AA meeting, and having an alcohol counselor) to not go back. I had an arsenal of resources to draw on.  I needed all of them. 

There is tons of information out there about how to conquer a spending addiction. 

Once you recognize your addiction, do everything you can to deal with it.

Or it will ruin your life.


Written by Val Hemminger, the nonconforming professional

Return from Spending Addiction 

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