All About Shopping Addiction: Causes, Treatment, and When It’s a Problem – Your Guide

Dr. Serenity
April 12, 2023

All You Need to Know About Shopping Addiction: Causes, Treatment, and When It’s a Problem

Shopping is a regular activity for many, and with online shopping, it’s easier than ever. However, the increase in online sales during the pandemic has raised concerns about shopping addiction. How can you tell if your shopping habits are problematic? This article explores the difference between occasional shopping and addiction, and offers advice on how to change your habits if necessary.


Understanding Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction, also known as compulsive buying disorder, is a behavioral disorder that involves excessive, uncontrolled buying of goods, even when the buyer cannot afford them. First coined by German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin as “oniomania” in the early 1900s, the disorder has since been described using various terms such as “compulsive shopping,” “compulsive buying,” and “uncontrolled buying.”

Experts say that the emotional experiences associated with compulsive buying, including the urge to buy, the loss of control, and subsequent short-term positive feelings, are similar to those of drug addiction. The pleasure associated with buying triggers a rush or “high” that the person seeks to recreate repeatedly. However, it’s important to note that compulsive buying is not recognized as a diagnosable disorder in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

While shopping addiction is not considered a separate mental illness, research shows that it often co-occurs with psychiatric and behavioral conditions such as anxiety, mood, eating, and substance use disorders. This suggests that shopping addiction may be a sign of a more significant psychiatric or behavioral disorder.

It’s essential to distinguish between a fondness for shopping and a shopping addiction. If you are concerned that your shopping habits are becoming problematic, there are steps you can take to address them. This article explores the causes and treatment of shopping addiction and offers guidance on recognizing when your shopping habits may be becoming problematic.


Identifying Signs and Symptoms of Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction can be recognized by a set of behaviors that involve a combination of compulsive and impulsive actions. A 2012 review has highlighted the following signs and symptoms of shopping addiction:

  1. Preoccupation with shopping or spending money

An individual may excessively focus on shopping or spending money, dedicating a considerable amount of their time and energy to it.

  1. Intrusive thoughts and urges before the shopping process

A person may have persistent thoughts or impulses to shop or spend money, even when it is not practical or necessary.

  1. Buying items you can’t afford, or buying items you don’t really need

An individual may continue to make purchases despite not having the financial means to afford them or buying items that are not necessary.

  1. Variations in mood during the shopping process

During the shopping process, a person may experience a range of emotions, such as feeling relieved after spending money, but then feeling guilty or frustrated later on.

  1. Financial, school, or work problems as a result of spending too much money

Spending too much money can cause financial issues, which can lead to difficulties at school or work.

  1. Strained interpersonal and family relationships

Shopping addiction can negatively impact relationships, causing strain and tension.

  1. The inability to stop compulsive shopping behaviors

Even if a person knows that their shopping habits have negative effects, they may still find it difficult to stop.

Another common symptom of shopping addiction is shopping secretly, particularly online, where people conceal their purchases out of guilt. Holly Schiff, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist for Jewish Family Services of Greenwich in Connecticut, explains that shopping addiction’s compulsive behaviors are comparable to those seen in other addictions, such as gambling disorders and sexual addictions.

If you or someone you know displays these signs or symptoms, it may be time to seek professional help to manage the behavior.


Exploring the Causes of Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction is a complex condition with multiple potential contributing factors. While there isn’t a single known cause, here are some of the factors that could play a role in its development.

  • Psychological and Physical Factors

Addiction involves both physical and psychological factors. Shopping addiction can give people a “high” from the brain chemicals released during the process. Moreover, shopping can also act as a distraction from unpleasant emotions. For instance, individuals may shop to help them cope with stress or to feel a sense of control.

  • Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety are the most significant underlying causes of shopping addiction. Many people turn to gratifying behaviors as coping mechanisms. As such, the endorphins released during shopping can make individuals feel happy and less stressed.

  • Social Isolation and Stress

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that social isolation and stress may increase the risk of developing shopping addiction. The APA’s 2021 statement suggested that there’s evidence supporting this theory. While the pandemic carried extra stressors, many people spent more time at home and in isolation. This could have plausibly caused an increase in these types of behaviors. However, there’s no hard evidence to confirm this.

  • Environmental Risk Factors

Certain environmental factors have also been found to put people at a higher risk of developing shopping addiction. Having a higher income or access to credit cards can make compulsive buying more accessible. Changes in personal environments, such as a divorce, moving away from loved ones, could also trigger emotionally-driven compulsive buying. People may shop to alleviate feelings of loneliness, helplessness, or guilt.

  • Mental Health Conditions

The 2012 review suggested that shopping addiction may be linked with various mental health conditions. These include OCD, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, binge-eating disorder, and affective disorders like depression. Shopping addiction tends to run in families living with mood, anxiety, or substance use disorders.


Shopping addiction is a complex condition with multiple potential causes. It can involve both physical and psychological factors, and people may use it as a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, or unpleasant emotions. Environmental and genetic factors may also play a role in its development. While having a mental health condition can increase the risk of developing shopping addiction, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll automatically develop the condition, and vice versa.


How Is Shopping Addiction Diagnosed?

Compulsive shopping, also known as shopping addiction, is a mental health disorder that can have a significant impact on an individual’s life. Fortunately, there are ways to diagnose and treat it.

Diagnosis by a Mental Health Professional

A mental health professional, such as a therapist or psychiatrist, can help diagnose compulsive buying. They will evaluate your symptoms, risk factors, and any underlying mental health conditions. It’s crucial to note that even if you don’t have a full-blown addiction, a therapist can still help with problematic behaviors you want to work on, such as a shopping habit you are uncomfortable with.

Interrupting the Cycle

During treatment, the provider aims to interrupt the cycle of compulsive buying, address the issue, and help the patient develop new and healthier ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. According to Schiff, “In treatment, the provider aims to interrupt the cycle, face the issue, and help the patient develop new and healthier ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.”

Diagnostic Tools

The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale is a diagnostic tool used to measure seven key criteria associated with addiction: conflict, mood modification, problems, relapse, salience, tolerance, and withdrawal. This tool helps clinicians evaluate the extent of the shopping addiction. You can access an online version of the questionnaire here, but this is not a substitute for a professional diagnosis.

Comprehensive View

To diagnose a true shopping problem, the clinician should take into account a comprehensive view of that person’s behaviors and other influences in their lives. As Sehat explains, “Are they shopping because they are depressed? Does it make them feel even more overwhelmed? Is it increasing their debt?” Understanding the root cause of the problem is crucial to developing an effective treatment plan.

In conclusion, shopping addiction can have severe consequences, but it can be treated with the help of a mental health professional. A comprehensive evaluation, the use of diagnostic tools, and interrupting the cycle of compulsive buying are all critical components of effective treatment.


Seeking Help for Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction, also known as compulsive buying disorder, can be a debilitating condition that can have a significant impact on a person’s life. If you’re struggling with symptoms that suggest you have a shopping addiction, seeking professional help is critical.

Recognizing the Difference

It’s important to recognize that a shopping addiction is different from a shopping habit. A shopping addiction is mentally and emotionally consuming and may disrupt your daily life. If you suspect that you have a shopping addiction, it’s crucial to seek professional help as soon as possible.

Treatment Options

A mental health professional may recommend treatments for compulsive buying that may be similar to other compulsive disorders, such as OCD. Depending on your symptoms and their severity, this might include a combination of therapy and medications, as outlined by Mayo Clinic.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is an approach that helps you understand the underlying reasons behind your compulsions, in this case, the perceived need to shop, and how you might be able to stop them.


A doctor or psychiatrist may also recommend medications that may help control compulsive behaviors, per Mayo Clinic. Antidepressants, such as sertraline (Zoloft) or fluoxetine (Prozac), are considered first-line medications for obsessive-compulsive disorders and obsessive-compulsive related disorders. These types of medications may also be used to treat the underlying causes of shopping addiction, such as anxiety, depression, or OCD.


If you’re seeking help for a shopping addiction, there are various resources available to you, such as:

  • Your primary care doctor, who may refer you to a therapist or behavioral specialist
  • The American Psychological Association’s psychologist locator tool
  • Online therapy programs
  • Phone and text support from the National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • Individual, family, or peer support groups
  • A 12-step program, such as Spenders Anonymous, which is designed to help you overcome addictive-like behaviors via a step-by-step process

In conclusion, shopping addiction can be a challenging disorder to overcome, but with the help of a mental health professional and the right treatment plan, recovery is possible. If you’re experiencing symptoms of compulsive buying, don’t hesitate to seek professional help and explore the various resources available to you.


Preventing Shopping Habits From Turning Into Addiction

Compulsive buying can quickly spiral out of control and turn into a shopping addiction that can affect your mental health and daily life. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent a shopping habit from developing into an addiction.

  1. Seek Support From Family and Friends

It’s essential to seek support from family and friends about your struggles with shopping addiction. By doing so, you can have a strong support system that can help you overcome the addiction.

  1. Make a Shopping List and Stick to It

Before going shopping, make a list of the items you need and stick to it. If you feel the urge to buy something that isn’t on the list, try to acknowledge the feeling and do something else, like exercising, journaling, or finding a hobby that doesn’t require spending money.

  1. Journaling as an Alternative to Shopping

Journaling is a great way to channel your emotions and reflect on your feelings instead of engaging in compulsive shopping. You can try to replace your shopping behavior with journaling.

  1. Unsubscribe From Promotional Emails, Unfollow Brands on Social Media and Use Ad Blockers

Unsubscribe from promotional emails, unfollow brands on social media, and use ad blockers on your computer to resist the temptation to shop.

  1. Control Your Cash Flow

If you have a severe shopping addiction, it may be necessary to cut off your cash flow or have someone else in charge of your finances. This can help prevent you from spending more money than you can afford.

  1. Find More Healthy Coping Strategies

Ultimately, you’re in control of your shopping addiction. If your anxiety is forcing you to shop, find healthy coping strategies that work for you, like exercise, meditation, or relaxation techniques. By finding more healthy coping strategies, you can help break the cycle of compulsive buying and regain control over your life.

Author Dr. Serenity

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