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What is Shopping Addiction?

Shopping is much more than just another chore and while to others it might still be as tedious as washing the dishes, and some will look at it as a nice relaxing activity. No matter what you are shopping for, it is important to distinguish the want from the need and ensure your spending doesn’t go above your budget.

Although to most it sounds easy to list down the items and just buy what you need and avoid over spending on unnecessary things. However, some people develop unhealthy mechanisms and problematic shopping habits this is what we call shopping addiction. There is a misconception that shopping addiction a bad habit, professionally described as a mental disorder called Compulsive Buying Disorder (CBD) by American Psychiatric Association.

6% of US woman are compulsive shoppers while 5.5% of men are. The amount spent on a typical compulsive shopper episode is approximately $110. Of course, if this happens too often it can create issues.


What causes shopping addiction?

There has been plenty of research and debate as to the mental processes that result in shopping addiction. Professional research has concluded that there are two kinds of factors at play.

Biological factors

Biologically, several studies explore how the brains of people who suffer from behavioral addictions such as shopping addiction react to stimuli related to those behavioral compulsions.

The result of studies like these suggest that certain behaviours trigger the same chemical reactions as those who are addicted to substances like drugs and alcohol.

Environmental Factors

The classic nature vs nurture argument. Experts believe that compulsive shopping can be a means of dealing with stress or as a maladaptive approach to dealing with stress. Similarly, to those who use substances as a means to cope with past experiences.

The science of how shopping addiction works.

When you purchase something, you get a hit of dopamine. This creates a chemical response which is called shopper’s high. If you looked at a brain scan during a buying binge you would see the image light up with happy hormones. For some people, this feeling is addictive, and can be the thing that solves a bad day, masks a negative emotion, or fills gaping feeling of emptiness.


What are the different kinds of shopping addicts?

There are several types.

Shopaholics who tend to spend heavily on expensive items even if they are beyond their reach.

Compulsive shoppers who use shopping to suppress their emotional issues and use shopping as a way to get away from their feelings.

Bargain seekers who find it hard to resist any sales and even buy stuff just because it’s on sale regardless, of whether they need it.

Collectors don’t really care much about the need or price they only care about buying every item to complete their collection

Bulimic shoppers who are in the habit of buying items and then returning them back after use to get refund.


The Academic View

Shopping addiction has been the source of plenty of research and study over the years. Professor Ruth Engs of Indiana University has done a wealth of research on the issue, finding that it is related to being addicted to how the brain feels after buying something new. She also says that while they think that shopping makes them feel better but in reality, it makes you feel worse you use shopping to cover deeply rooted mental health issues.

This is further elaborated by PyschGuides saying that 10%-15% feels their brain releases endorphins and dopamine from the thrill of new purchases. One of the main traits among shopping addicts is hiding their shoppers from their family members to avoid being caught since they spend beyond what they can afford, and they also use shopping as a way to distract themselves from the issues they are facing in life. Shopping addiction is a commonly treated issue at rehab centres.

Robert Bildher Ph.D. professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA said that CBD isn’t being studied as much or as well, there is a stigma associated with it that people who have a shopping problem should simply stop. But it is often not that simple.

The bright side of it is that although temporarily but shopping does make them feel happy until they realize the bitter fact that they have over spent which may lead to financial issues later on causing them to feel guilty and start worrying about it. Financial issues may include going in debt which is slippery road that can lead to constantly borrowing money from bank or friends and even bankruptcy. Apart from financial problems, this addiction can also cause relationship issues with parents, spouse and children due to shopping too much. They can feel distant from their parents, children, and loved ones.


How do compulsive shoppers and spending addicts control this problem?

Ways to prevent shopping binges include:

  • Paying for purchases by using cash, check or debit card in which you can control exactly how much cash you have available to you.
  • Make shopping lists, being sure to only buy exactly what’s on the list, this helps prevent compulsive purchases.
  • Destroy your credit cards, except one which should be used in an emergency only.
  • Avoid discount warehouses, outlet stores. If you do go to one allocate a certain amount of cash to be spent.
  • If you must ‘window shop’ do so only after to stores have closed. If you need to go and have a look in the daytime, leave your wallet and cash at home.
  • If you are planning to visit friends or relatives, have all gifts wrapped and call the project finished. People tend to make more extreme purchases when they shop outside their own communities.
  • If you feel the urge to shop, take a walk or do something to distract yourself.
  • Avoid online shopping, catalogue orders and don’t watch TV shopping channels.
  • If you feel like you’re out of control, you probably are! Seek help.

It’s really important that the person who is struggling with shopping addiction seek help, simply because there is treatment available. It’s possible for a shopping addict to make a recovery and change their relationship with shopping.

Counseling or support group such as debtors anonymous are able to help you.

Is there a cure for shopping addiction?

With any behavioral issue which has gotten to the point of addiction, there isn’t a cure per say. Not in the medicinal sense of the word. However, with effective treatment you can learn to control your habits, reorganize your priorities and regain normality. Yes, you may always occasionally feel the urge to shop, but with effective treatment and mindfulness techniques you can get this under control. This is essentially a cure (depending on how you look at it). It does take a lot of work to get to this point and relapse is common, but you can absolutely get your life back (with a few changes).

Modern Challenges with shopping addiction

With Online Shopping, buying things has never been easier. Just like

In this cosmopolitan article Carla Sosenko outlines her struggle with shopping addiction.

It didn’t help that I was surrounded by enablers. ApplePay and PayPal mean I no longer need to walk to my purse to retrieve my credit card. There’s always something new to acquire, as evidenced by the posts of picture-perfect influencers and the ads that fill my social media feed. I live in New York City, so I can even pay for same-day delivery on certain sites. I get emails about things I’ve left in my cart, out-of-stock merchandise that’s available again, and markdowns on items I’ve been eyeing. And the Internet is open 24/7. Once I managed to put a pair of $800 Chloé boots into my cart in a half-asleep haze. The next morning, I was confused about how they’d gotten there.

In 2013 Lindsey Lohan admitted she developed a $5,000-a-day addiction to online shopping.


How do you treat Shopping Addiction?

There are several ways to treat shopping addiction:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which can help people identify and change negative thoughts of yourself that leads to overspending. Working with a therapist you can work through your patterns of thoughts and systematically redirect them to a more helpful and constructive outcome. You can find more information here:

Financial Advice

If addicts are gone to a point where they are already in serious debt, then its best to seek the help of a financial advisor or a debt counselour who can help them to come up with a payment plan to pay back what is owed and fix their credit score. This is often available free of charge in some places in the world if taken through the proper channels.


The first step is to identify it as a problem and fix it before going into bankruptcy. Treatment for behavioural addictions for is available at rehab clinic facilities around the world.