Most people like to shop, and need to, but for some an obsession to “shop ‘till they drop” takes over and causes then to rack up credit cards and overspend to a point in which their behaviors lead to many adverse consequences. Shopping addiction has many of the same characteristics as any substance abuse addiction in terms of the effects shopping has on the addict.
According to Indiana University, compulsive shopping can be a seasonal disorder (often around the holidays) or it can be an on-going disorder. The excessive need that shopaholics feel for the “pick me up” that comes from shopping can lead to an overabundance of purchases, typically that have little or no need or necessity for the shopper besides that they wanted the item so they purchased it.
What is Shopping Addiction?
If you can’t control your shopping and often overspend you likely have an addiction.
Shopping addiction actually has a technical term that is called Omniomania. This means compulsive shopping and is perhaps the most socially reinforced of the behavioral addictions. Shopping addiction is characterized by the widespread desire to shop and purchase items despite a need for such items or despite a necessary ability to afford such items. Consumerism is one of the biggest measures of social elite in America and this makes shopping addiction an even more widespread problem for many.
Shopping addiction is not a newfound disorder. It has affected millions of people for many years and dates back to as early as the 19th century. Friends and family members go out and shop together, people shop socially, people shop for something to do and people shop to fulfill negative emotions. An addiction to shopping leads to compulsive shopping that can result in many negative feelings. According to the US National Library of Medicine, over 5% of Americans are affected by compulsive buying disorder.
Effects of Shopping Addiction
Compulsive shopping disorder has many negative consequences that can be physical, financial, and emotional and otherwise hindering to the addict.
Some of the effects of shopping addiction include:
- Spending too much money when you don’t have money to spend
- Shopping to heal pain or social anxiety
- Feeling anxious about shopping
- Feeling guilt or anger after shopping and overspending
- Decreased self-esteem as a result of overspending when you intended not to
- Relationship loss as a result of shopping when you were not supposed to or promised that you wouldn’t
Recognizing the Signs of Shopping Addiction
A concerned friend or family member may be able to quickly and easily spot the signs of a shopping addiction even before the addict himself can notice such signs.
Some of the signs of shopping addiction include:
- Overspending. If you find that you constantly overspend and take money from your budgeted expenses to cover a shopping excursion than you may be a victim of shopping addiction.
- Compulsive purchases. If you compulsive purchase items despite a need to buy something or if you notice that you buy ten pairs of shoes at a time instead of just one, there could be a problem.
- Chronic shopping. If you notice that you don’t just overspend once in a while or you don’t just over shop once in a while than you may have a chronic shopping addiction problem.
- Lying about the problem. Do your friends or family members constantly want to know where your money is going but you tell lies about it? If you lie about your shopping in an effort to cover up what is really going on there could be a problem.
- Shopping, guilt, shopping, guilt. According to Columbia University, shopping addicts usually feel guilt, anger, and/or sadness following the initial euphoria of shopping. If your shopping leads to guilt and yet you shop again, you could have a problem.
- Broken relationships from shopping. Does your spending or desire to shop lead to broken relationships? If your desire to shop has caused havoc on your relationships and despite your desire to do better you continue to shop then there is a problem.
- Consequences don’t help. If you know that there will be consequences if you shop but you still decide to spend money than you are stuck with the consequences. The consequences may include relationship troubles, financial troubles, regret and guilt.
Is Shopping Addiction Real?
Additional Signs or Behaviors that Could be a Sign of Shopping Addiction
If you show any of these additional signs or behaviors, you could have a significant problem that warrants the need for intervention, counseling or treatment for a shopping addiction:
- Spending money when you are angry
- Spending money when you are depressed
- Spending money when you are anxious
- Spending money when you are depressed
- Arguing about spending habits
- Feeling lost if you are not spending
- Purchasing items on credit when you don’t have the cash to cover them
- Feeling a rush when shopping
- Feeling guilty or embarrassed about shopping after the fact
- Obsessing about money
Difference Between a Shopping Spree & Shopping Addiction
Not all people who go out on a spending spree are shopaholics. Some can go out and spend moderately or even a bit more than moderately and sill not be considered addicts. Others who shop may have an uncontrollable desire and urge to shop that is conclusive to a shopping addiction.
There are differences between shopping sprees and shopping addiction:
- A shopping spree leads to excessive purchases but typically is backed by the money necessary to spend on the shopping
- A shopping addiction is an excessive or compulsive shopping event that is often paid for by credit cards or other methods
- A shopping spree is a one time or occasional thing
- A shopping addiction is typically a routine action
- A shopping spree usually takes place around a special holiday or event
- A shopping addiction can take place anytime
Help for Shopping Addiction
There are many ways that you can change your behavior or limit your shopping to reduce the negative impact of shopping.
For instance, some of the basic behaviors that can be changed to eliminate a shopping addiction include:
- Admitting that you have a problem
- Making a list and checking it twice to ensure that only necessary items are on the list
- Getting rid of checkbooks or credit cards that can only fuel a shopping addiction
- Finding ways to spend time productively without shopping
- Taking a friend or family member with you when shopping and making sure that they are ready to provide you with support to prevent unnecessary purchases
- Avoiding urges to spend, if you feel like shopping, take time to think about whether or not you really need to shop before you actually go out and spend
Support Groups for Shopping Addiction
Spenders Anonymous provides a safe space for shopping addicts to gain support.
The following support groups could help you or someone you love overcome a shopping addiction or at least get their addiction under control. Some of the groups focus on completely not shopping at all while others approach the legal, financial or relationship issues that surround a typically shopping addiction.
You may find help in one or all of the following shopping addiction support groups:
- Spenders Anonymous – a support group based on the 12 step model of treatment that was originally outlined by Alcoholics Anonymous, Spenders Anonymous is dedicated to providing support to those who overspend on shopping
- Debtors Anonymous – a support group that shares the strengths, experiences, hope and recovery for those who have compulsive debt as a result of spending and shopping
- Online Support – there are many online support groups that can help you to stop spending or at least to reduce your shopping addiction and the negative effects that the addiction has on you. If you are a compulsive online spender, these groups could lead you online more and may not be most beneficial but the forums and chat areas available in these online shopping addiction support groups have helped many people admit to their problem and decide to seek further help.
Treatment for Shopping Addiction
Researches indicate that as many as 75% of shoppers who are compulsive shoppers will admit to a problem but they don’t know how to get help. Shopaholics have problems with their friends, family members, finances and general relationships. Although there are many reasons that an individual may shop and each of these reasons can lead to a different method of treatment the general options for treatment of shopping addiction include:
- Behavioral therapy – this method of treatment aims to change negative behaviors such as poor spending habits into more positive behaviors.
- Cognitive therapy – this method of treatment aims to help the shopaholic learn how to change their thought processes and stop thinking about shopping. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy showed the effectiveness of this method.
- Financial counseling – this is often necessary to get the compulsive shopper back on track and to stop overspending
- Self-help books – many self-help guides are available to assist shoppers in finding methods of having fun without spending
- Medications – sometimes, shopping is the result of depression, anxiety or another mental illness which is treatable with medication. A Standford University Report showed that antidepressants in particular were able to help treat compulsive buying disorder.
How you can help a family member who is a shopaholic
Family members and loved ones who are addicted to shopping need as much help as they can get when it comes to curing their addiction. Many times, shopping addiction will lead to hoarding which is an obsessive compulsive disorder that is associated with keeping EVERYTHING. Some hoarders are collectors and only hoard certain things while others may hoard just about anything from a new item to a box or bag that an item came in to the trash from yesterday’s meal. Hoarding can be a very dangerous condition that can lead to fire hazards in homes, dangerous living spaces and disease or infestations that can make the individual sick.
Help from Friends:
- Support your friend. If you have a friend who has a shopping addiction, the best thing you can do for them is to provide support. If they want to shop, try to make excuses for them to find other things to do or if they do go to the store, go with them and monitor their spending and purchases.
- Financial help. Don’t pay the bills for the shopping addict because this will only facilitate their shopping addiction further. Instead, help them to understand what their budget is and if they do have extra money, then you can help them learn how to save or what they can or should spend the money on.
- Counseling. Your friend with a shopping addiction may not be ready to admit that they have an addiction or that they need help. You can help them by getting them to agree to counseling and also by helping them to find counseling that will meet their needs
Tips for Avoiding a Shopping Binge
Recovery from shopping addiction has a long and difficult road that is often plagued by the urge to spend. You can avoid a shopping binge by taking part in other actions, distracting yourself and trying to find a better way to manage your urge or to control your desire to shop.
Here are a few tips that you can use to avoid a shopping binge:
- Pay for all purchases with cash – it’s easier to keep track of cash than to keep track of a check or debit or credit card so you will likely spend less
- Make a shopping list and stick to it
- Get rid of your credit cards and if you do choose to keep any credit cards, keep them in a safe place for emergencies only
- Avoid clearance isles, discount warehouses and other places where “deals” may be found. If the deal is not on the list—you don’t need it!
- If you must shop, window shop. Check out items that you wish you could buy and make a list. If after a few weeks you still want the item and you’ve controlled your spending for a prolonged period of time than you can indulge and make a wish list purchase
- Purchase gifts well before the holiday and don’t make any additional purchases once shopping is complete
All of these tips can help you to spend less money, avoid havoc and prevent over shopping. Shopping addiction is difficult to cope with and in some cases, even the support that you receive from friends or family just won’t be enough. If you find that you need additional support, there are various shopping addiction support groups that focus on impulsive shopping, debt and other problems associated with shopping which may be of help to you.
Shopping addiction can be a serious and destructive behavioral health addiction. Although it has been documented in medical journals for more than 100 years, the American Psychiatric Association does not officially recognize shopping addiction in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5).1 Researchers and clinicians continue to debate the best way to classify compulsive and excessive shopping—whether as an addictive, obsessive-compulsive, impulse-control, or mood disorder. They also continue to debate the name of this disorder, so you may hear it called shopping addiction, compulsive buying disorder, shopaholism, compulsive shopping, compulsive consumption, impulsive buying, or compulsive spending.1
Shopping addiction is characterized by an intense preoccupation with buying and shopping, frequent episodes of buying, and an uncontrollable urge to shop despite serious negative consequences.2 If you have a shopping addiction, you may feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster. You may:2
- Spend a lot of time thinking about shopping.
- Get anxious before a purchase.
- Feel relief or euphoria after a purchase.
- Feel guilt or shame later.
Researchers estimate that almost 6% of adults in the United States experience shopping addiction during their lifetime.2 It appears shopping addiction primarily affects women, but the numbers could be slightly skewed because men are less likely to admit to a shopping addiction. Given this variable, surveys suggest that as many as 80–95% of people with a shopping addiction are women.2
Societal norms and gender roles likely play a role in the demographics of behavioral health problems in general. Evidence shows that men gravitate toward gambling and sex addiction, while women are more likely to develop food and shopping addictions.3
Age is also a factor. Most studies suggest that shopping addictions typically begin in the late teens or early twenties, around the time when people can open their own credit accounts.2
Behavioral Health DisordersBehavioral health refers to a person’s state of being and how their behaviors and choices affect their overall health and wellness. Behavioral health disorders are illnesses that are precipitated or perpetuated by your conscious decisions and which you are unable to resist the urge to repeat, despite negative consequences. Changing your addictive behaviors directly influences your life, then, by lessening or removing the symptoms of the behavioral addiction. Read More
How Does Shopping Addiction Develop?
In most cases, shopping can be viewed as a fairly positive activity. It is functional, entertaining, and good for the economy. Some behaviors become reinforced as a function of the sense of reward that they elicit in the brain, and shopping may be no exception. Any activity that stimulates our reward center carries some risk of addiction. The way in which Americans shop, and where they shop, has changed over the years—from small shops to huge malls, to megastores and big-box stores, to the internet—but the process remains the same. The act of shopping in any form involves stages that all activate the brain’s reward center, including the process of browsing and the final purchase.3
The development of a shopping addiction is thought to be influenced by a combination of several factors. The most common risk factors for shopping addiction are age and gender, with young women facing the highest risk. Evidence suggests that compulsive shopping runs in families and that within those families there are very high rates of other mental health and substance addiction issues.2 Studies suggest that people with an immediate family member suffering from depression are at the highest risk.2
According to most research, the typical compulsive shopper is young, female, and of a lower educational background.1 If you are a compulsive buyer, you are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol too.4 You may also experience more obsessive-compulsive and impulse-control symptoms than other people, and you may have low self-esteem.5
The most common risk factors for shopping addiction are age and gender, with young women facing the highest risk.
Some personalities are more prone to develop a shopping addiction than others. Research shows a connection between depression and anxiety disorders and compulsive shopping.1 So, if you are typically anxious, depressed, and self-conscious, you may be using shopping as a way to deal with negative emotions.1 If you are an extrovert, you may use shopping as a way to maintain social status and attractiveness—a new outfit for every occasion.
Depression is one of the most common comorbidities with compulsive buying disorder, but general anxiety is also common. However, it is difficult to say which starts first, the shopping disorder or the mood disorder. One theory is that people with depression and anxiety self-medicate with shopping and rely on shopping for the temporary relief of their symptoms.4 Another theory is that shopping addiction alters the brain’s reward circuitry (in the same way as other addictions), which may increase the likelihood of developing depression.4
Symptoms and Side Effects
If you think you may have a shopping addiction, you may recognize 4 common phases of compulsive buying:2
- Anticipation. You feel an urge to shop and you can’t stop thinking about it.
- Preparation. You make decisions about when and where to go, what to wear, and which credit card to use. You may spend considerable time researching fashion trends or sales.
- Shopping. You feel intense excitement during the actual shopping experience.
- Spending. Your ritual is completed with the purchase. You may feel euphoria or relief, followed by a sense of let-down or disappointment with yourself.
Most compulsive buyers shop alone and keep any debt a secret.A shopping addiction is difficult to spot in another person, since it is largely a private experience. Most compulsive buyers shop alone and keep any debt a secret. Shopping addiction has little to do with individual wealth. Shopping and spending can be done in a variety of venues, from high-end boutiques to garage sales. Compulsive shoppers tend to buy clothing the most, followed by shoes, jewelry, cosmetics, and household items.2
If you have a shopping addiction, you probably feel a lot of guilt and regret about your buying habits, and the stress of guilty feelings can lead to depression and anxiety. Additionally, there may be major conflicts or tension in your family because of your addiction since financial problems can strain marital relationships and put everyone under a lot of pressure. This state of constant tension can lead to serious depressive symptoms.
If you are suffering from both a shopping disorder and a depressive disorder, you may experience some of the following symptoms:6
- Persistent sad, empty, or anxious mood
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Difficulty making decisions, concentrating, or remembering
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
- Moving or talking more slowly
- Feelings of restlessness
- Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
- Changes to appetite or weight
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Aches or pains
People with a compulsive buying disorder often have trouble controlling their impulses. An essential characteristic of behavioral addictions is the inability to resist an impulse, urge, or temptation to do something that is harmful to yourself.7 This feature is particularly prevalent in shopping addictions because the act of buying and spending money is often impulsive—people with shopping addiction purchase impulsively with little thought of the negative consequences.
A shopping addiction is very different from a love of shopping. People with an addiction continue to shop despite serious negative consequences. Many compulsive buyers face consequences like serious credit card debt, inability to pay bills, failed relationships, financial legal troubles, and criminal legal troubles.
In one study, 85% of compulsive buyers say they are worried about debt. Increasing credit card debt takes a major toll on personal relationships, and most compulsive shoppers say their relationships have been negatively affected. Research shows that nearly all compulsive buyers try to resist their urges, but are rarely successful.2
Treatment Options for Shopping Addiction
At present, there are no proven pharmacological treatments for compulsive buying disorder. Clinicians often prescribe anti-depressants such as citalopram, but there are no definitive studies proving that it works.2 Since people with a shopping addiction often have co-occurring psychiatric disorders, part of their treatment is actually treating those other disorders, which may have a residual effect of reducing compulsive shopping behaviors. This may include treatment with anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety medication, mood stabilizers or opioid-antagonists.8
Research shows that the best way to treat a shopping addiction is with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—a form of talk therapy—in a group setting. You can work with a psychologist, therapist, or counselor in a structured therapeutic environment to identify problematic thought patterns. You learn to question harmful thought patterns and understand how they affect your behavior and emotions. You then develop strategies to change self-defeating patterns and learn to cope with stressful situations in a healthy way.9
You can explore more intensive treatment in an inpatient or intensive outpatient setting, but most compulsive shoppers find that a commitment to ongoing outpatient CBT therapy is sufficient. You and your behavioral health counselor can talk about your compulsivity and impulsivity, evaluate the current problems in your life (such as debt or marital discord), and identify solutions for those problems.
CBT group therapy is the only proven method of treating shopping addiction and compulsivity, but you may benefit from other group treatment options. Talking about your disorder with people who understand, because they have been through it themselves, has shown to be an effective addiction treatment, partly because you feel less alone in a support group where people get what you are going through. Peer-to-peer support groups like Debtors Anonymous use the 12-step program to stop spending money and going into debt. Debtors Anonymous meetings are free and open to anyone who is ready to stop shopping and are found in cities all over the country.
Cognitive Behavioral TherapyThere are many forms of treatment to choose from, but the one that has proven time and again to be fundamental in helping treat addictions and a host of mental health issues is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. CBT has been extensively studied and demonstrated to be highly effective during treatment, with the skills learned lasting long after a patient leaves the program. Read More
- Andreassen, C. S., Griffiths, M. D., Pallesen, S., Bilder, R. M., Torsheim, T. & Aboujaoude, E. (2015). The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale: reliability and validity of a brief screening test.Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1374.
- Black, D. W. (2007). A review of compulsive buying disorder.World Psychiatry, 6(1), 14–18.
- Rose, S., Dhandayudham, Towards an understanding of Internet-based problem shopping behaviour: The concept of online shopping addiction and its proposed predictors.Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 3(2), 83–89.
- Zhang, C., Brook, J. S., Leukefeld, C. G., & Brook, D. W. (2016). Associations Between Compulsive Buying and Substance Dependence/Abuse, Major Depressive Episode, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder Among Men and Women. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 35(4), 298–304.
- Maraz, A., Van den Brink, W. & Demetrovics. (2015). Prevalence and construct validity of compulsive buying disorder in shopping mall visitors.Psychiatry Res.228(3): 918–24.
- National Institutes of Health. (2016). Depression signs and symptoms.
- Brook, J. S., Zhang, C., Brook, D. W. & Leukefeld, C. G. (2015). Compulsive Buying: Earlier Illicit Drug Use, Impulse Buying, Depression, and Adult ADHD Symptoms.Psychiatry Research, 228(3), 312–317.
- Soares, C. Fernandes, N. & Morgado, P. (2016). A Review of Pharmacologic Treatment for Compulsive Buying Disorder.CNS Drugs.30(4):281–91.
- National Institutes of Health. (2016). Psychotherapies.