Marie’s shopping addiction began as a way to fight boredom while she was recovering from a physical illness. Credits: The Project

For many people, online shopping is something fun and convenient. But for addicts like Marie*, the fun stopped a long time ago – but she couldn’t.

She buys at least one new item a day, racking up what she says is a "huge amount of debt" across three credit cards, and has taken out two loans.

"I used to feel good about it, I used to enjoy it," she told The Project.

"I used to upload [her purchases] onto Instagram, Snapchat people about them. But now I just put them in the garage or hide them away in my wardrobe."

Her shopping addiction began as a way to fight boredom while she was recovering from a physical illness. Makeup and clothes are her biggest weaknesses.

"I scroll through Instagram and every third thing I see is a new place for me to buy makeup, a new place for me to buy clothes."

Compulsive shopping is a disorder that provides a physical rush, similar to that of drugs and gambling. Marie hasn’t been able to tell her friends and family how bad her problem is, and goes to exhaustive lengths to hide her purchases from her partner.

"I have cubby holes in my wardrobe, I open them, put them in and close it, and he never knows. I don’t think he realises how bad it’s got.

"I probably couldn’t go a day without doing it, and he probably doesn’t know that. He knows about one credit card, he doesn’t know about the others."

Psychologist Sara Chatwin says she’s seeing more people who are addicted to online shopping, partially because we’re all spending more time using the internet.

"It’s pretty serious stuff for a lot of people, and it seems to be getting worse," she says.

"I’ve seen some people at the very extreme end, where it is what they live and breathe, and it’s stopped them having meaningful interactions with people – relationships have suffered, work ethic has been damaged.

"I’ve seen across the board how it has affected people, so it’s definitely a problem for some people."

She says for people who suspect they know someone with an online shopping addiction, confronting the problem is the best approach – but tone and timing are important.

"I’m a great proponent of facing up to things and asking the hard questions, but I would suggest to people: pick your time, and pick your tone.

"I think if people feel confronted or threatened or attacked, they are going to shut down the conversation. So you just need to do it and say it in a way that’s palatable for them and not attacking."

She says Marie and anyone else in a similar situation need to try and break out of their harmful habits when they feel the desire to buy something.

"Get out, do anything, go for a walk, make a cup of tea, ring a friend," Ms Chatwin says.

"Do something that’s going to get you away from your keyboard. Often that’s really hard, and I think it’s why people try to get friends or loved ones on board to give them a bit of support.

"I think a problem shared is a problem halved, and it’s just finding that person who will listen and help you make sense of what you’re going through that really will make a difference."

If you’re struggling with shopping addiction, call Lifeline on 0800 54 33 54 or visit cinh.org.nz or debtorsanonymous.org.

*Not her real name

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