Modern society encourages us to shop, often for items we could live without. Buying new clothes, furniture or other items can be fun. However, some people are compulsive shoppers or shopaholics. They suffer from compulsive shopping disorder, otherwise known as oniomania. This condition can lead to serious debt and the breakdown of personal relationships. Recent research suggests as many as one in twelve Australian adults have this disorder.
A session of shopping can be a quick fix to deal with an emotional void, being ‘down in the dumps’, feeling unloved or inadequate. The feeling of elation brought on by the shopping spree will not last and the person is likely to now feel guilty, depressed and perhaps angry. On top of this they may have fears about the consequences of overspending. These negative feelings may trigger another shopping binge.
Research suggests compulsive shoppers and gamblers have similar psychological profiles. This includes traits of low self-esteem, seeking approval, desire for excitement and having difficulty handling negative feelings. Genetics may also play a part.
Both compulsive shopping and gambling can be an attempt to cope with depression and loneliness. The initial rush of endorphins from a shopping binge makes the shopper feel happier, temporarily. Lonely people may tend to go back to shops where shop assistants were friendly. This is much the same way some people who play the pokies go back to a hotel where staff make them feel welcome.
What is the difference between someone who is a bit reckless with money, overspending now and then (especially at Christmas) and someone with oniomania? A compulsive shopper suffers a level of anxiety that disturbs their life and can only be settled by shopping. About 80 percent of shopaholics are women (one article I read said 90%) and they may have another issue such as ADHD, anxiety, mood disorder, bipolar or a substance addiction.
If someone exhibits four or more of the following it is likely they are suffering from oniomania-
• Shopping as a way of dealing with feelings of anger, loneliness or depression
• Being preoccupied with shopping
• Spending an excessive amount over their budget
• Buying way more than is needed
• Buying items that will never be used
• Having clothing that is never worn and still has price tags
• Keeping purchases a secret to avoid disapproval
• Feeling shame after a shopping binge
• Feeling guilty about spending and then returning purchased items for a refund
• Opening numerous credit card accounts
• Preferring to use credit rather than cash
• Having secret credit card accounts
• Not paying credit card bills
• Suffering anxiety or a feeling of ‘withdrawal’ if they are without a credit card
• Having frequent arguments due to overspending
The following treatments and support may help someone who has oniomania -
Therapy Cognitive Behaviour Therapy may help someone who has unhelpful thought patterns around shopping and spending money. The therapist may help the person to identify emotions and thoughts that lead to an urge to shop. A person who is dealing with issues such as poor self esteem may also benefit from therapy. Walking and meditation may be suggested as part of the treatment plan.
Credit Counselling A trained financial counsellor may be able to help with managing debt and dealing with creditors. A financial counselor who has specialised knowledge of compulsive shopping disorder may offer strategies to help avoid problems in the future.
People suffering oniomania often have low serotonin levels which may make them feel depressed and also lower their impulse control. Sometimes serotonin re-uptake inhibitor medications are useful in managing the disorder.
Support groups A support group will give the compulsive shopper an opportunity to share experiences and feelings with an empathetic group. Members of the group can share strategies they have found useful. Bonding with supportive people may help members feel more connected which may help reduce the urge to shop.
Support from family and friends Family and friends can be supportive by avoiding social situations which encourage shopping binges. They can suggest activities other than a shopping excursion and may decide to avoid shopping malls if meeting for coffee. They can encourage the person to make a list when shopping and stick to it. Perhaps they can suggest going for a walk together and everyone leaves purses or wallets at home.
Sometimes oniomania is not viewed as a disorder and goes untreated for many years. Others may feel the person is irresponsible and not recognise they are in need of help and support. As with many things we can help those around us by becoming informed and being understanding rather than judgemental.