For most of us, going shopping means buying a few items for the kids or a gift for a friend. For others, a trip to the mall can be a destructive “fix,” a desperate attempt to deal with stress, fill an emotional void, or avoid negative feelings. An impulsive spender often ends up with closets full of unused items, still in their original wrapping and with price tags attached. Some impulsive spenders even turn to criminal activities to get the money necessary to feed their spending habit.
Research suggests that impulsive spenders, when they spend money, get a neurochemical “rush” akin to the feeling an addict gets from using cocaine or methamphetamine. In some people (estimates are between 2 and 8 percent of the U. S. population) spending seems to stimulate the release of dopamine, one of the brain’s chemical messengers. Dopamine is used by the brain to facilitate feelings of pleasure and reward. Impulsive spenders, it appears, can become intoxicated by, and addicted to, their own dopamine.
At Cottonwood, our clinicians employ cognitive behavioral and mind/body therapies to help our spending patients develop tighter impulse control and learn more adaptive ways of managing the negative emotions that can act as triggers to spend. Prior to discharge, counselors help our spending patients develop a personal spending recovery support system and a relapse-prevention plan around shopping.
Addictions such as impulsive spending often exist in tandem with co-occurring mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Learn more about Cottonwood’s commitment to identifying co-occurring disorders.