What is Addiction?
What do you think of when you hear the term “addiction”? The first thing that comes to mind for most people is alcoholism or gambling. In reality addiction encompasses so much more. By definition addiction is a behaviour or activity done repeatedly, that causes harm to the individual. The harm caused by the activity does not need to be physical to fall into this category. In my experience many addictions come from the same source: avoidance. Avoidance of memories related to trauma, negative thoughts, negative emotions, etc.
Why are certain behaviours addictive?
When we engage in enjoyable behaviours dopamine (the happy or feel-good chemical) is released in the brain. Increases in dopamine release can be due to substance use, or certain (enjoyable) behaviours. [Behaviours related to dopamine release are not always negative, for example: exercise, getting a promotion at work, or socializing.] Although dopamine is not considered addictive, the feeling it provides is one of the main drivers behind most addictions. Release of this chemical can effectively help us avoid negative emotions and thoughts.
Am I a Shopaholic?
As said in Time magazine: “The Science of addiction”, almost anything deeply enjoyable has the potential to be addictive. Shopping is a fun pastime for most, for some it is a compulsion.
I am sure we have all thought to ourselves at one time or another: “am I a shopaholic?”, particularly after a shopping spree.
Below I have listed some of the signs of a shopaholic:
- Do you shop when you feel upset?
- Has overspending created problems in your life (personal or financial)?
- While shopping do you feel overly happy or anxious?
- Post-shopping do you feel embarrassed?
- Do you feel the need to hide your shopping habit?
- Do you buy things that you do not need?
- Do you think about money often or all the time
I am sure you have all heard the term “retail therapy” to describe shopping after going through something emotional (ie. loss of a job, a breakup, or a difficult week at work). When done in moderation this is not an issue. It is when it begins to affect other areas of your life (home, relationships, financial stability) that it should be considered a problem.
To begin moving past any addiction it is important to understand what is driving it. If you think you have a shopping addiction use a journal, to keep track of when you go shopping, how often, and how you are feeling before and after. Another helpful method is to reach out to a therapist, who can help you determine which negative feelings are associated with your addiction. Working with a therapist in this way can help you get to the root of the problem. Understanding the cause is the first step, after this you can begin to mitigate the cause of the addiction and start to change negative behaviours.
Throughout the recovery process one of the most important things to be aware of is shame. Shaming yourself for any addiction is counterproductive. The negative feelings associated with shame can make you feel worse, which continues the cycle of addiction. If you are struggling with addiction know that you are only human, people make mistakes, and the best you can do is reach out for help and change your habits. While doing so, you should be nothing except proud of yourself. Proud for taking steps to better yourself, and the strength it takes to do so.