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5 warning signs you're a 'shopping bulimic'

If you compulsively shop to feel better then return the product after the buzz has worn off — and financial reality has set in — you might be suffering from what one psychotherapist has dubbed "shopping bulimia."

Overboard shopping is a topic I know a little too much about. Just ask anyone who knows me. Now there's a new diagnostic component to this shopping addiction, called shopping bulimia.

Shopping bulimia is when people are overwhelmed by the desire to buy something in order to feel better, but once the initial happy buzz of buying wears off, they realize they can't afford their spree, so they quickly return their purchases.

If you are worried that your shopping addiction has veered into the realm of shopping bulimia, here are five warning signs:

  • Shopping to ease depression and anxiety.

  • Damaging perfectly good products and telling elaborate stories so retailers will accept returns.

  • Feeling euphoria and excitement after a purchase is made, followed by extreme buyer's remorse.

  • Buying pricey luxury items for social events with the intention of later returning them for refunds.

  • Having high expectations for how you should live your life, without the cash flow to maintain such a lifestyle.

You might ask, what's the big deal? You spend, you return and you get your money back. No harm done, right?

Not so fast.

Those who engage in shopping bulimic behavior often lie and damage products to get retailers to take back these purchases. Stores and sales people can take big financial losses from this cyclical buy-and-return behavior.

So what's the cause for this out-of-control impulsivity? Part of this phenomenon is triggered by our consumer- and status-obsessed culture. We're bombarded by images telling us "we are because we have" or convincing us we need to have whatever the next best thing is. And technology has made access to all of these items easier to get than ever before. Most things are just a quick click away. Online shopping can be both entertaining and addictive.

Not everyone falls prey to these shopping addictions or compulsions. A percentage of people are genetically predisposed to have this addictive behavior, especially when it's coupled with environmental triggers.

Those who are most likely to get caught up in this vicious cycle are those who find shopping gives them a huge high. Shopping can stimulate our pleasure centers. The endorphins and dopamine, the naturally occurring opiate receptor sites in the brain, turn on, which feels exhilarating to the shopper. Purchasing can also help someone to feel better about themselves and more like the person they want to be. It can also help relieve feelings of depression and anxiety, while encouraging temporary feelings of optimism and excitement.

The problem is, these good feeling are always transitory and never a permanent solution to the deeper issues they often mask, hence, the cyclical nature of this behavior.

Shopping bulimics are more in touch with the financial realities of their situation. This awareness triggers a lot of guilt, which gets them to return the item/items, so they can convince themselves they've avoided financial consequences for their spending. But all behaviors have consequences.

To get a better hold on the situation, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to promote healing and well-being:

  • Is this the best way to use you time, or could you use the purchase and return time in a more productive way?

  • Is this a way to avoid dealing with uncomfortable moods, like boredom, depression, anger or anxiety?

  • Do you feel you're doing the right thing by returning items you have no intention of keeping?

  • And, finally, are there alternative ways to get what you want?

For more help on ways to combat compulsive shopping, click here.