Impulse spending is tough to resist. It’s easy, instantly rewarding, and results in a feel-good dopamine hit.
And with social media apps, purchases for everything you can think of – makeup, clothing, expensive skincare products – are just one little click away. Millennials spend a lot of time on social media. It’s hard not to. And I’m willing to bet that if you’re reading this right now, you’ve probably impulse bought something on social media that you later regretted.
I get the allure of impulse spending. It’s just so damn easy. Plus, the ads you scroll through on a daily basis are targeted to you and your specific purchasing habits.
But impulse spending can result in money guilt. It causes real financial and emotional problems. We’ve all been at the mercy of impulse spending at one time or another. However, people with ADHD often spend more impulsively than the average consumer.
Is impulse spending a sign of ADHD? In short: it can be. Overgeneralizing isn’t helpful, and it’s important to note that everyone is different. Two people with ADHD may have very different presenting symptoms. Presenting symptoms of ADHD depend on a lot of factors, like someone’s type of ADHD, whether they’ve been raised as a woman or a man, and the skills they’ve honed to manage their symptoms. However, impulse spending is a common issue for lots of people with ADHD for multiple reasons.
So what exactly is the relationship between ADHD and spending money? Let’s take a look.
For one thing, ADHD can result in greater difficulty with impulse control. This is especially true for people with the hyperactive-impulsive presentation of ADHD.
In a similar vein, adults with ADHD can have a harder time delaying their gratification. Impulse shopping provides immediate gratification and a feeling of reward, which can be difficult to resist.
Part of the reason for this gratification is that impulse spending provides the shopper with a hit of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine. People with ADHD (especially women) tend to have lower levels of dopamine, so they often seek it where they can. The reward system in our brains is difficult to combat. This is why it feels so good at first to make impulsive purchases, and why it’s so hard to stop.
Furthermore, people with ADHD enjoy novelty and seek new experiences. Shopping can feel novel because it involves purchasing something new and exciting.
Additionally, anxiety and depression are common among people with ADHD. Dopamine counteracts the effects of anxiety and depression, even if only briefly. After the initial impulsive spending has occurred, though, regret and fear can quickly rush in.
Impulse spending can also help boost feelings of happiness and control in someone’s life. Someone with ADHD is more likely to feel overwhelmed by life’s demands. Therefore, they may use things like online shopping as a way to regulate their emotions and feel more in control. This is especially true if someone hasn’t developed many coping mechanisms for feeling overwhelmed. Many millennials I work with realize that shopping has become one of their go-to coping mechanisms to manage their stress and emotions.
For all of these reasons, impulse spending is a big challenge for many people with ADHD.
So yes, impulse spending can certainly be a sign of ADHD. However, there are a lot of other factors to consider. Just because you have ADHD doesn’t mean you have problems with impulse spending. Likewise, just because you have difficulty with impulse spending doesn’t mean you have ADHD.
If you have ADHD, you may feel some shame around your spending habits. Shame around certain stigmatized behaviors is common among people with ADHD. It’s not your fault that your brain has lower amounts of dopamine or that your emotions often feel overwhelming. It’s a natural human response to respond to stress by distracting yourself with something else. However, it is your responsibility to change your behavior if it’s hurting you or others.
Awareness is a key factor in understanding your habits and changing behaviors that don’t serve you. Once you have a better understanding of what is happening, you can seek resources and help. So what can you do if your impulse spending is bordering on alarming?
Impulsiveness has a sense of urgency to it. It feels like you have to act on your impulse right away.
Becoming aware of this dynamic can be really helpful in combating impulsivity. For example, if you tend to make impulse purchases every time you scroll through Instagram, take note of this. Maybe it’s a good time to uninstall the app for a while. I’m not saying you should uninstall it forever. But taking a break from social media can help give your brain space from the constant stimulation and ads.
Or maybe spending money impulsively serves as a distraction from discomfort. This can include the discomfort of overwhelm, anxiety, depression, or challenging emotions. Once you acknowledge that you’re using impulse buying as a distraction from something else, then you can start to dig deeper. Are you panic-scrolling through virtual clothing racks because your anxiety is sky-high and you just want to take your mind off it? Once you notice something else lurking below the surface, you can begin to address those underlying issues.
Feeling like your impulse purchases are out of control? Worried that your ADHD is hurting your bank account? If you want extra support, I’m here to help. I offer online therapy in Idaho and Iowa and coaching services wherever you’re located for anxious clients who struggle with things like people-pleasing, perfectionism, burnout, overwhelm, and ADHD.
Reach out today and see if we’re a good fit. Let’s start building a better future together.
Danielle is an anxiety therapist and perfectionism coach. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.