If you are a compulsive spender, you know the highs and lows that accompany the 5 phases of spending: anticipation, preparation, shopping, spending, remorse.  You also know which phases are the most fun, and which produce the stomach dropping plunge to the pits when payment is due. You love getting things; you spend hours and hours and devote much of your creative energy to your acquisitions. And it’s only getting worse. What can you do?

Why You Need Help To Stop

The reward system of the brain is triggered the same way as substance use disorders and process disorders (also called process addictions) such as sexual addictions, workaholism, exercise addiction, and food disorders. A process addiction doesn’t get better on its own, just as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer and not be ignored and expected to manage themselves.

3 Steps To Start Your Recovery

  • Ditch the denial and start telling the truth. First be honest with yourself, then talk to loved ones about the problem. They already know. They may already have been hurt. They will welcome solutions.
  • Get some good information about compulsive spending recovery and shopping and share it with your family. No one heals from an addiction alone
  • Develop a plan-of-action choosing what you need from the tools below

Your Support Team

  • Get a financial adviser to make a plant to get out of debt
  • Seek individual and group therapy as well as family therapy. Cognitive (thought) behavioral (action) therapy is especially useful as it can teach you how to resist urges to spend, or utilize process therapy to delve into your issues at a deeper level. An addiction therapist can focus on your treatment and recovery as well as other mental health or addictive issues.
  • Seek inpatient treatment if needed.
  • Seek psychiatric help as there may be medications (such as antidepressants) that can help with the impulsivity.
  • Talk to your spiritual/religious mentor..
  • Join the free 12 programs, Spenders Anonymous or Debtors Anonymous. These groups are based on the same 12 Steps as AA and NA for substance use disorders. Besides the actual 12 steps, both groups have excellent resources regarding how to cope with compulsive spending or the debt you have incurred due to the spending.
  •  Get a sponsor, someone who has the same problems but who has been free of the behavior and who has been working the steps. Utilizing the steps can help you or your loved one to get honest, make amends for your behavior, and go beyond the addiction into recovery.

Strategies To Use Every Day

  • Examine needs vs. wants and shop only for needs. All right, this isn’t easy. You think you need everything.
  • Use healthy coping skills such as: exercise; do creative activities, especially ones that involve your hands; think about other things; read; journal; meditate, attend book clubs or spiritual meetings; talk to others who understand your addiction; focus on gratitude for what you have; and continue to develop and utilize healthy leisure time.
  • Practice mindfulness; this can help you to learn how to shop mindfully (you may need to work with a professional regarding this)
  • Have someone else do the shopping for you or not going shopping alone and shopping with someone who doesn’t have a problem
  • Develop a shopping list with non-addicts and only buy what’s on the list
  • When shopping leave credit/debit cards and large amounts of cash at home (only take what you need per the shopping list);
  • Destroy all credit/debit cards except for one for emergencies.
  • Never shop when you are angry, sad, depressed, or feeling other feelings which may trigger your compulsion; never shop at stores where you typically overspend
  • Walk away from an impulse to spend – give yourself time to think about it.
  • Stay off the internet and TV home-shopping networks.
  • Don’t shop during holiday “bargains” or other store bargain times; and avoid discount shops, especially ones where you buy in bulk.

Compulsive spending is an addictive process, but one that can be overcome with a healthy recovery plan. And while it is difficult to stop all shopping and spending (unlike drugs and alcohol where the goal is total abstinence), it can be managed. And with such management, you can become healthier in all areas of your life. You don’t have to go it alone. If you need help with your spending or any other addiction, check out Recovery Guidance for a free and safe resource to find addiction and mental health professionals near you.

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Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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