Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction, also called “compulsive spending,” “compulsive buying disorder” or “oniomania,” is characterized by the incessant desire to shop. Shopping addicts often feel agitated, anxious or stressed when they’re unable to shop. Shopping addiction can lead to serious financial and social consequences, such as bankruptcy and loss of relationships. It is linked to anxiety and depression.

What is Shopping Addiction?

Compulsive shoppers are caught in a cycle of buying as a way of soothing stress, anxiety and depression. Shopping addicts feel relief during the buying process, but often feel guilt, anxiety and depression after overspending.

The DSM-IV classifies shopping addiction as a “not otherwise specified” impulse control disorder, along with addiction to sex, compulsive self-mutilation and compulsive overeating. Each of these conditions is characterized by an inability to control impulses and urges, even when those urges are harming the subject or those around them.

Some shopping addicts spend exorbitant amounts of money on new things, while others are simply obsessed with the idea of purchasing — they’ll constantly window-shop or shop online, but they don’t necessarily buy. This obsessive behavior can still put one’s relationships and well-being at risk.

The Biology of Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction is not fully understood by researchers. Studies are underway to measure the ways in which the brain’s chemistry changes when shopping addicts are able to feed their addiction.

Compulsive shopping shares the same characteristics of alcoholism, compulsive gambling and food addiction. A study in “Psychology and Marketing” (1998) suggests the behavior is used as a way of self-medicating depression and other negative emotions the compulsive shopper feels. Compulsive spenders use shopping to improve their mood.

Shopping Addiction Risk Factors

In the United States, more than 1 in 20 adults suffer from compulsive buying, according to a 2006 survey published in the American Journal of Psychiatry (Kaplan 2006). Studies show that women are at slightly higher risk than men. Other risk factors include:

  • Age: Those under the age of 40 are at higher risk than their older counterparts.
  • Income level: According to Medical News Today (2006), those that earn less than $50,000 a year are at higher risk.
  • Medical history: A personal or family history of depression or anxiety disorders puts one at increased risk for a shopping addiction.

Shopping Addiction Warning Signs

Many people engage in “retail therapy” from time to time. For some, however, spending is out of control. The support group Debtors Anonymous lists several warning signs that illustrate the distress, denial and dysfunction that surrounds someone who is addicted to shopping, including:

  • Feeling unable to resist sales
  • Feelings of shame or embarrassment about discussing money
  • Leaving tags on clothing so items can be returned
  • Living in a way that there is always financial chaos to deal with, such as from living paycheck to paycheck, often being overdrawn or taking risks paying important bills
  • Not knowing monthly expenses and account balances
  • Not taking care of basic needs because money is needed to pay past debts
  • Not using the things you’ve bought.

Shopping Addiction Treatments

Compulsive shoppers have several methods of treatment available to them. Since shopping addiction is a complicated disorder, consult a health care professional about treatment.

Treatments for compulsive shopping include 12-step programs, in-patient care centers and psychological counseling. Medical treatments, such as drug therapy with an antidepressant medication, may also be helpful to some.

How to Seek Help

If you’re a compulsive spender, you are not alone. Joining a support group and connecting with others facing the same addiction can be an important key to recovery. There are groups that meet in person and online. The organizations include:

  • Daily Strength:
  • Debtors Anonymous:
  • Shopping Addicts Only:


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Faber, R. (1998). In the mood to buy: Differences in the mood states experienced by compulsive buyers and other consumers. Retrieved Aug. 7, 2010, from;2-J/abstract

Hucker, S. J. (2005). Impulse control disorder: Not otherwise specified. Retrieved July 16, 2010, from

Kaplan, A. (2006). Compulsive buying disorder affects 1 in 20 adults, causes marked distress. Retrieved Aug. 7, 2010, from

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