Shopping Addiction

“Anyone who believes the competitive spirit in America is dead has never been in a supermarket when the cashier opens another checkout line.” (Ann Landers)

We know it. Shopping is among the most favorite hobbies of Americans. From Macy’s to Sears, everyone has their favorite department store. But some people say that shopping is becoming more than just a hobby—it’s an addiction.

Shopping addiction has been long labeled the “smiled upon addiction.” We take cocaine addiction and alcohol addiction seriously, but when it comes to shopping, people just, well . . . smile. However, recent articles are saying that shopping addiction is increasingly widespread across America—and many people have it, but just don’t know they do.

Shopping Addiction: For Real

Shopping addiction can be defined as inappropriate, excessive, and out-of-control buying. Simply put, it’s when shopping is in control of the shopper and not the other way around. It’s also known as compulsive shopping, impulse control disorder, and—my favorite—oniomania.

Although nobody knows the cause of shopping addiction, the reason addicts want to continue does have some explanation:

Basically, the shopper gets a “high” from shopping. Chemicals in the brain, capable of producing feelings of well-being, are switched on which makes the individual feel good. (Specifically, these chemicals are endorphins and dopamine). The more the body gets used to those feelings, the more likely the addict will seek that feeling again. This is the concept of “reinforcement.”

The cause may be the result of an underlying condition, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), bi-polar disorder, depression or anxiety. In fact, research shows that approximately 50% of shopping addicts also have depression or bipolar disorder. For others, compulsive shopping is a just a means of coping with stress.

Shopping Addiction: How Do I Know Whether I Have It?

We all know someone who is known for their love of shopping, or maybe you’ve jokingly called yourself a “shopaholic.” But is there a difference between shopping for enjoyment and shopping because you can’t help it? What classifies a “shopping addiction” anyway—and how do you know if you have it?

According to, the tell-tale signs include

  • Compulsive buying: Going into the store for one pair of shoes and coming out with eight pairs.

  • Spending over the budget: Often times the individual is not aware of the accumulating debt, but even when they are, they still cannot control themselves and the debt continues to grow.
  • Continuously over-shopping: This isn’t just a once-a-year shopping spree. It’s a continuous problem.
  • Hiding their problem: Shopaholics may hide their purchase or have secret credit card accounts. Just like alcoholics hide their bottle, shopaholics hide their purchases.
  • Impaired relationships: This can occur because the addict spends too much time away from home, has arguments with others about their shopping habits, covers up debt with deception, or start to isolate themselves from others.

The biggest difference between shopping for enjoyment and shopping addiction centers on control. Addicts cannot control themselves. It’s not something they can simply will away. Instead, compulsive shopping becomes a way of life, the only means of coping, something they cannot live without.

Shopping Addiction: the Consequences

Even though it may not lead to deadly withdrawal symptoms and effects associated with drug addictions, the consequences of compulsive shopping are not insignificant.

Compulsive buying means spending a lot of money, usually over the budget. This results in thousands of dollars of debt. According to Psychology Today, arguments over money are the number one reason for relationship stress and break-ups. Thus, it is no surprise that the consequences of shopping addiction can include things like massive amounts of debt, impaired relationships, even divorce.

So, no, shopping addiction is not a laughable matter, because it’s real, destructive, and requires treatment.

Shopping Addiction: Treatment

There is treatment for shopping addiction, but there is no standard treatment. For someone with an underlying disorder like depression should treat that with medications. Most often, shopping addiction requires a multi-faceted approach which may include

  • Group cognitive-behavior therapy
  • Marital and couples counseling
  • Credit counseling
  • Debt management
  • Debtors Anonymous
  • Shopaholics Anonymous

For Additional information