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Sun, June 1, 2014
Web of Buys: Addicted to Online Shopping

Ever since the Internet was created two decades ago, both it and our lives have continued to morph and change at a increasingly fast pace. Any new invention--such as the TV--can either be friend or foe. For many, the Internet is like crack cocaine: cheap, easy, and incredibly addictive!

Think about it. Because most of us use the Internet regularly, we can’t live without it! And many get sucked into behaviors that, previously, took at least a little more effort to engage in. We have Internet gambling, video and other games, pornography and hook-ups, news and other info, access to drugs and alcohol and, of course, shopping.

2013 was the first year where online sales surpassed “in-store” sales. Holiday season online sales were up 3.5% over 2012 while “in store” sales were down 21%.

Now, not everyone who shops at stores or online becomes a shopping addict but it’s safe to say that the Internet makes it more tempting and more likely that we could get hooked.

Overshopping and overspending have been around since the dawn of time but these problems have only recently been considered as potentially addictive-compulsive disorders. In 2006, Stanford University conducted a study that concluded about 6% of Americans (18 million) suffered from “compulsive buying disorder.” And the University of Richmond, two years later, put that number at closer to 10%. Interestingly, nearly as many men as women may suffer from compulsive shopping or spending.

In addition, some recent statistics have proclaimed that the average American carries about $10,000 (Ten Thousand Dollars) in debt due to extraneous/leisure spending and that the number one reason why couples argue and break-up is due to arguments about money and spending or “financial infidelity”--lying about or hiding purchases.

It’s been hard to quantify what percentage of “shopaholics” primarily struggle with Internet shopping but, after a nearly a decade of counseling people with this problem, I can safely say that the majority of them increasingly do. As a side note, shopping over the TV has also become more common and, likewise, more problematic, as more and more people are watching TV and the number of home-shopping networks has ballooned from several to several hundred. Supply and demand at work.

How do you know if you’re addicted to shopping--whether at stores, on TV, or through the Internet? Well, it’s just like any other addiction, actually. You could be in denial, of course, but ask yourself these questions: might this be a problem for me? Do others think it’s a problem for me? Am I falling behind in paying my bills due to my shopping? Do I buy things and often don’t even use them? Is my home becoming cluttered? Do I hide my shopping from loved ones or lie about it? Do I feel irritable or agitated if I go for a while without shopping? Is shopping interfering with work or other important activities or relationships? Is my shopping getting more frequent, more expensive, or out of control? Have I tried to stop or slow down but found it hard to do? If it walks and quacks like a duck, it might be a duck.

However, if you are addicted to shopping, the goal is not necessarily complete abstinence from shopping or spending - as would be recommended or necessary with drugs, alcohol, or gambling. Rather, it’s more like recovery from overeating - we have to learn what is driving the emotional and out-of-control shopping and how to change our lifestyle and coping skills to help us engage in more balanced and appropriate behavior. It can be done with the right help. Many will need specialized counseling, support groups such as Debtors Anonymous, medication, family support, and knowledge from books such as Bought Out and $pent! Recovery from Compulsive $hopping and $pending.

Overshopping is overshopping whether it’s at high-end stores, thrift stores, garage sales, or through the TV or Internet. But, for most, it’s harder to avoid the Internet than the stores. Most people have e-mail. Most people use the Internet for work or personal research. Most participate in social networking. Besides, online shopping sites bombard us daily with prompts and “flash sales”, often at our weakest moments.

So, then, what can one do if one is addicted to Internet shopping? Here are some recommended steps:

  1. The first step is to admit you have a problem.
  2. Ask for and receive help from loved ones and, likely, a skilled therapist.
  3. Don't shop alone for a while - just as sex or gambling addicts must stay out of dangerous places for instance, sex parlors, casinos, and porn and gambling sites.
  4. You may need to unsubscribe from shopping websites that send you emails or social media messages.
  5. You may need to cancel your credit card that is on file with online stores.
  6. You must find other healthy activities to fill up your time.
  7. You may need to install software to prevent you from accessing certain websites (similar to a TV channel blocker).

I’ve been honored and gratified to have successfully counseled many clients who’ve been compulsive shoppers and spenders. Once they’ve taken the first steps to acknowledge a problem and seek help, we can discover what needs they are really trying to fulfill and it has nothing to do with the stuff. Most people get hooked on shopping, especially Internet shopping, when they are feeling depressed, low self-esteem, empty, angry, or unsupported. The tragedy is that their shopping seems to temporarily soothe them but only complicates their lives. The Internet may be a dangerous neighborhood to hang out in. Get out of there and to a safe place. Get help now!

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