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.
A shopping addict is someone who shops compulsively and who may feel like they have no control over their behavior.
Are There Different Types of Shopping or Spending Addictions?
According to Shopaholics Anonymous, there are several different types of shopaholics, and they are as follows:
- Compulsive shopaholics who shop when they are feeling emotional distress
- Trophy shopaholics who are always shopping for the perfect item
- Shopaholics who want the image of being a big spender and love flashy items
- Bargain seekers who purchase items they don’t need because they are on sale
- Bulimic shoppers who get caught in a vicious cycle of buying and returning
- Collectors who don’t feel complete unless they have one item in each color or every piece of a set
What Causes an Addiction to Shopping?
According to Ruth Engs from Indiana University, some people develop shopping addictions because they essentially get addicted to how their brain feels while shopping. As they shop, their brain releases endorphins and dopamine, and over time, these feelings become addictive. A professor in applied health sciences, Engs claims that 10 to 15 percent of the population may be predisposed to these feelings.
What Are the Signs of a Shopaholic?
In some cases, it may be difficult to tell if you are, or a loved one is, a shopaholic. Many people adore shopping, and many people also spend too much money while engaging in this activity. It is important to note that going a shopping spree once in a while does not mean you are a shopping addict. However, there are several signs and symptoms shopping addicts display that you may want to look for.
Emotional Symptoms of a Shopping Addiction
Like all addicts, shopping addicts may try to hide their addiction, and if a loved one is addicted to shopping, they may try to hide it from you. If you hide credit card bills, shopping bags or receipts, you may be a shopaholic. In some cases, shopaholics may try to hide their addiction by lying about just one element of it. For instance, a person may admit they went shopping, but they may lie about how much they spent.
Some of the other emotional symptoms you may notice from a shopaholic include the following:
- Spending more than they can afford
- Shopping as a reaction to feeling angry or depressed
- Shopping as a way to feel less guilty about a previous shopping spree
- Harming relationships due to spending or shopping too much
- Losing control of the shopping behavior
Physical Symptoms of a Shopping Addiction
Although most addictions have physical symptoms related to them, shopping addictions may not. In most cases, the symptoms you experience due to your shopping addiction will be emotional in nature. The physical evidence of a shopping addiction may include a declining financial situation.
If you or someone you love is exhibiting any of the symptoms listed above, there are professionals who can help. Our representatives are standing by at 1-888-997-3147, and when you contact us, we will help you find a shopaholic recovery program that is right for you or your loved one.
Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of a Shopping Addiction
The short-term effects of a shopping addiction may feel positive. In many cases, you may feel happy after completing a shopping trip. However, these feelings are often mixed with anxiety or guilt, and in most cases, the guilt or anxiety may propel you back to the store for even more shopping.
The long-term effects of a shopping addiction can vary in intensity and scope. Many shopping addicts face financial problems, and they may become overwhelmed with debt. In some cases, they may simply max out their credit cards, but in other cases, they may take out a second mortgage on their home or charge purchases to their business credit card. If you are addicted to shopping, your personal relationships may also suffer. You may end up getting a divorce or distancing yourself from your parents, children or other loved ones.
Is There a Test or Self-Assessment I Can Do?
If you are still trying to figure out whether or not you are a shopaholic, Shopaholics Anonymous suggests that you ask yourself the following questions. If you answer “yes” to many of these questions, you may have an addiction. The questions are:
- Do you shop when you feel angry or disappointed?
- Has overspending created problems in your life?
- Do you have conflicts with loved ones about your need to shop?
- While shopping, do you feel euphoric rushes or anxiety?
- After shopping, do you feel like you have just finished doing something wild or dangerous?
- After shopping, do you ever feel guilty or embarrassed about what you have done?
- Do you frequently buy things that you never end up using or wearing?
- Do you think about money almost all the time?
Medication: Are There Shopping Addiction Drug Options?
Unfortunately, according to MSN Money, the research on drugs that may treat shopping addictions has not revealed any conclusive evidence about which sort of drugs may be the most helpful in treating this issue. However, many shopaholics have been able to successfully treat their addictions by turning to anti-anxiety medications or even antidepressant medications.
Shopping Addict Drugs: Possible Options
Reviewing an article from the Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, ABC News reports that a drug called memantine may be able to help shopaholics. Designed to treat Alzheimer’s, this drug may be able to help shopaholics make decisions more clearly, and it may also help them to avoid compulsive behavior.
Medication Side Effects
The side effects of these drugs vary depending upon which medication you decide to use. If you decide to take antidepressants, for instance, you may experience any of the following side effects:
- Inability to fall asleep at night
- Feelings of anxiousness
- Unexplained sweating
- Feeling tired or fatigued a lot
Ideally, you should speak with your doctor about possible side effects before you start taking any medication.
Drug Addiction, Dependence and Withdrawal in Shopaholics
Withdrawal symptoms may vary from person to person, but according to the Chicago Tribune, many shopping addicts will experience withdrawal symptoms that are similar to the withdrawal symptoms experienced by people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. If you feel irritable, depressed or out of control after shopping, you may be experiencing withdrawal, and you may need to get help.
If you and your doctor decide to treat your addiction with medication, you should always take your medication as directed. If you take too much of any prescription medication, you may risk experiencing an overdose.
Depression and Shopping
According to Donald Black from the University of Iowa, as quoted in Esperanza magazine, nearly two-thirds of all shopaholics struggle with depression or anxiety. In order to effectively treat your shopping addiction, you may also need to deal with your other mental health issues. Ideally, when searching for a recovery program, you should try to find a recovery program that can address both aspects of your addiction.
Dual Diagnosis: Substance Abuse and Shopping
In some cases, shopping addictions can be related to a substance abuse issue. If you believe that you are, or a loved one is, struggling with substance abuse and a shopping addiction, it is time to get help. With the right professional shopping addiction treatment, you will be able to gain control over your life again.
Getting Help for a Shopping Addiction
It isn’t fun to feel out of control or depressed about shopping too much. It isn’t pleasant to lose those close to you due to the arguments that may occur as a result of your shopping addiction. If you are, or a loved one is, struggling with a shopping addiction, it is time to get help now.
To get help on treating shopping addiction, you simply need to pick up the phone. Our trained staff members are standing by at 1-888-997-3147 to help you.