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Online shopping addiction: definition, symptoms, risk factors, and treatments 

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Table of content

Online shopping addiction

An online shopping addiction is a behavioral addiction that refers to compulsively buying things over the internet without considering the consequences to satisfy an impulse. People with this addiction often purchase items to avoid negative emotions.

The symptoms of online shopping addiction include compulsive buying behavior, financial difficulties, withdrawal symptoms, and interference with daily life. The risk factors include impulsivity, low self-esteem, internet availability, and boredom. The causes include materialism, co-occurring mental health issues, and convenience.

Online shopping addiction can be treated through therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy or individual counseling.  Additionally, medications can be administered to treat co-occurring mental health issues, which should lessen online shopping tendencies.

Table of Contents

What is online shopping addiction?

Online shopping addiction involves compulsively purchasing things on the internet in an effort to feel better and avoid negative emotions. According to Correa in her 2022 article published on Addiction Center, the internet has exacerbated the online shopping habits of people with a shopping addiction.

People with an online shopping addiction also feel like they have no control over their spending habits, even if it can lead to financial bankruptcy or relationship issues.

What is the other term for online shopping addiction?

The other terms for online shopping addiction are oniomania, compulsive shopping, or buying-shopping disorder (BSD), however, It’s most commonly referred to as compulsive shopping. Online shopping addiction is not an official distinct behavioral addiction recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

How does online shopping addiction develop?

Online shopping addiction can develop in the following ways:

  • The convenience and ease of purchasing items online appeal to some.
  • Some shop online to avoid social interactions at physical stores.
  • Shopping for new items online can help a person to avoid negative emotions or feelings.
  • People shop online as a method to avoid boredom.

These factors may cause someone to feel pressured into making online purchases, and once they feel the “high” of shopping online, they are unable to control it.

What are the causes of online shopping addiction? 

The causes of online shopping addiction are listed below:

  • Materialism: Individuals who are materialistic tend to attach their self-worth to the material items that they own and seek approval from others. They are always searching for the next best thing and struggle to resist their materialistic impulses. 
  • Other mental health conditions: Mental health issues such as anxiety disorder, substance use disorder, impulse control disorder, and eating disorders can make an individual more prone to develop online shopping disorder.
  • Convenience: Individuals who get used to the convenience of buying things online could develop an addiction. The quick gratification, as well as not having to deal with crowded spaces, could be the ideal catalyst for online shopping addiction to develop. 
  • Traditional shopping addiction: Individuals who already are pathological buyers at brick-and-mortar shops are much more likely to also be addicted to online shopping.

What are the signs of online shopping addiction?

The signs of an online shopping addiction are listed below:

  • Shopping excessively and uncontrollably.
  • Feeling guilty after spending money or going shopping
  • Shopping as a reaction to negative emotions (anger or sadness).
  • Being secretive about online purchases and trying to hide them from their friends and family.
  • Often buying more than planned or more than what they can afford.

What are the symptoms of online shopping addiction?

The symptoms of online shopping addiction are listed below:

  1. Preoccupation with online shopping
  2. Compulsive buying behavior
  3. Financial difficulties
  4. Withdrawal symptoms
  5. Negative emotional impact
  6. Relationship strain
  7. Concealing or lying about online purchases
  8. Interference with daily life
  9. Emotional dependence on shopping
  10. Loss of control

1. Preoccupation with online shopping

two girls shopping, looking at phone

A preoccupation with online shopping involves an obsession and persistent thoughts that are focused on making online purchases. This fixation shows up as a persistent obsession with the process of shopping in online stores.

People who become preoccupied with online shopping and spend a lot of time scouring online websites may be at risk of becoming shopping addicts. The uncontrollable urge to shop can negatively affect one’s financial stability and overall well-being.

2. Compulsive buying behavior

Compulsive buying behavior refers to an irresistible and compelling urge to shop online, usually after experiencing a negative event or feeling. People who have compulsive buying urges will spend money to buy new items, even if it could lead to financial ruin.

Compulsive buyers can easily satisfy their urges thanks to online shopping. When they experience unpleasant feelings, they can use their phone or laptop to fulfill their compulsive shopping behavior.

3. Financial difficulties

Financial issues refer to not being able to pay payments like rent, a mortgage, utilities, etc. The first sign that someone has a compulsive buying problem may be financial difficulties.

Kim writes in his Business Insider post from 2022 that buying addictions can seriously harm someone’s financial state. When visiting stores (online or in-person), a person who is addicted to shopping will not give a thought to their financial commitments.

4. Withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms are the physical and mental manifestations that appear after stopping a substance or behavioral addiction. Online shopping addicts may experience withdrawal symptoms if they are unable to shop for whatever reason.

Online shopping addicts may manifest irritability, anger, frustration, or restlessness as withdrawal symptoms. They’re prone to experience withdrawal symptoms if they can’t satisfy their urge to purchase. These symptoms, nevertheless, will eventually go away.

5. Negative emotional impact

Negative emotional impact refers to unpleasant emotions that shoppers may experience after completing an online purchase, such as shame or remorse, according to a 2021 post on Also, negative emotions like anger, irritation, or sadness can often be the trigger that causes the urge to shop again.

An addict might go on an online buying binge as a result of these negative emotions surfacing. After their buying binge, the buyer might feel guilty and try to hide their purchases, causing them to feel sad again.

6. Relationship strain

Macbook with boxes and ipad on it

Relationship strain is the term used to describe issues and tension between two partners which have the potential to derail a relationship in every facet of their lives, including intimacy, finances, and even health. Any addiction can severely strain a relationship, whether it be substance-related or behavioral.

Online shopping addictions could cause mistrust and financial strain in a relationship, as well as resentment toward the addict, total loss of intimacy, and, ultimately, a breakup.

7. Concealing or lying about online purchases

Lying about online purchases indicates a person intentionally hides purchases from their partner, family, or friends or completely denies having made any purchase, despite evidence of the contrary. 

According to Hartney’s article “Why People With Addiction Lie” from 2022, which is posted on Verywell Mind, regularly lying about online purchases might be a sign of addiction since addicts frequently conceal their addiction to prevent confrontation and avoid feeling ashamed.

8. Interference with daily life

When something interferes with a person’s daily life, their work, social, or romantic life is also affected. When a person has an online shopping addiction, their urge to constantly buy products online may interfere with their daily activities.

An online shopper who develops an addiction will not only spend a lot of money but also a lot of time browsing online shops and adding products to their basket. As a result, they could perform poorly at work and spend less time with their friends and significant other.

9. Emotional dependence on shopping

Emotional dependence is characterized by a pattern of unmet emotive needs that are improperly fulfilled through interactions with people or things, according to Etxaburu et al. in their 2023 article published in the Current Psychology international forum. These addicts feel like they need online shopping to keep their moods stable and their emotional needs fulfilled.

When a person becomes emotionally dependent on online shopping, they exhibit many traits of addictive pathologies, including poor emotion regulation, comorbid anxiety, and depression, and they frequently go through “withdrawal syndrome” when they are unable to shop online.

10. Loss of control

Addicts often feel a complete loss of control over their urges. This is known as impulse control behavior. The impulse to do something can occur repeatedly, quickly, and without consideration of the consequences of the actions.

When online shopping addicts have trouble controlling their impulses, it could be because they feel powerless to resist their urge to shop online. The addict’s financial well-being can suffer as a result of these impulse control behaviors.

What are the risk factors of online shopping addiction?

woman shopping

The risk factors of online shopping are listed below:

  1. Impulsivity
  2. Low self-esteem
  3. Influence of advertising and marketing 
  4. Financial instability
  5. Emotional vulnerability
  6. Lack of awareness or knowledge
  7. Co-occurring mental health disorders
  8. Boredom
  9. Lack of social support
  10. Internet access and availability

1. Impulsivity

Impulsivity is defined as acting without giving the consequences much or any thought. It is common in adolescents and many adults, and it is typically harmless. However, some people are impulsive very often, up to several times a day, and act aggressive, restless, or easily distracted, according to Cooper in his 2022 article posted on WebMD.

Impulse purchases represent between 40% and 80% of all purchases, according to Rodrigues et al. in their 2021 article published in the Frontiers in Psychology journal. Individuals who are more prone to impulsive behaviors are also more likely to develop an online shopping addiction.

2. Low self-esteem

Low self-esteem refers to someone lacking confidence in their own abilities. According to the NHS, people with low self-esteem might shy away from social situations, such as crowded shops and public spaces. 

People with low self-esteem will prefer to spend time online and shop online. They might start to feel better about themselves while shopping online since no one can physically see their insecurities or judge them based on their appearance or social interactions.

3. Influence of advertising and marketing

Advertising and marketing strategies are designed to bring attention to a product or service.  In a 2021 research paper published at the Yogananda International Conference on Contemporary Issues in Social Sciences, Jogi and Vashisth state that online advertisements are quite effective in changing the perceptions of online shoppers.

Most online adverts operate using an algorithm. It keeps track of the services or goods an online shopper is interested in and displays targeted advertisements, increasing the likelihood that the individual will be interested. This algorithm is especially effective for those who are prone to compulsive online shopping.

4. Financial instability

woman shopping and looking at a phone

Financial instability happens when a person finds it difficult to make ends meet or jeopardizes their future financial stability by letting their finances get out of control. A number of variables could lead to financial problems, but in most situations, it is stressful for the person involved.

Financially unstable people may experience stress and emotional pressure. To deal with their financial problems, they may adopt harmful behavioral patterns, including excessive online shopping.

5. Emotional vulnerability

Emotional vulnerability refers to people who are more prone to experience negative emotions, such as sadness, shame, or anger, and may find it challenging to express their feelings openly and honestly.

Often, individuals seek solace in online shopping as the temporary excitement of acquiring new items helps them temporarily escape from their negative emotions. However, this cycle of using online shopping as a coping mechanism can lead to long-term financial and emotional distress.

6. Lack of awareness or knowledge

A lack of awareness or knowledge refers to not having the knowledge, comprehension, or abilities required to comprehend or participate in a certain subject or topic, such as online shopping addiction. 

People might exhibit compulsive buying behaviors without being aware of the risks and consequences of excessive online shopping. This addiction can have a detrimental impact on their financial stability, mental health, and overall lifestyle. However, a lack of awareness makes this not as well-known.

7. Co-occurring mental health disorders

Co-occurring mental health disorders refer to when a person has a substance or behavioral addiction with an underlying mental health issue, such as depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. 

According to Glowiak in his 2022 article posted on Choosing Therapy, a good deal of people who battle with shopping addiction also suffer from diagnosable mental health or substance use issues. Among the most prevalent are disorders of mood, appetite, and personality.

8. Boredom

Boredom is defined as the state of being utterly uninterested in one’s surroundings, which can include job, social interactions, or school. Boredom is common, and most individuals experience it occasionally, but for certain people, it is not as harmless.

Boredom may be a significant contributor to an addiction to online shopping. According to Sundström et al.’s 2018 article published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, when online buyers are bored, they are quickly triggered by triggers like price, ease of access, and free delivery, and it is viewed as simple to click the boredom away.

9. Lack of social support

credic ard, mouse and keyword

Having friends and relatives to whom you may turn in times of need is referred to as having social support. These individuals could provide companionship, expertise, or emotional support. When a person lacks any social support, they have no one to turn to in times of need.

Lack of social support and excessive levels of stress together increase the risk of developing an online shopping addiction. According to Li et al.’s 2022 paper in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, social support affects college students’ tendencies to purchase goods online by reducing their stress.

10. Internet access and availability

Internet access refers to the availability and use of the Internet to a certain person or group of people. On their personal phone or computer, some people have unrestricted access to the internet, whilst others only have limited access in specific locations, like the computers at the library. 

People who have unrestricted internet access are more likely to waste time on unimportant tasks like browsing the retailer’s websites. As a result, there is an increased chance of developing an addiction to online shopping.

How does online shopping addiction impact a person’s financial well-being?

An online shopping addiction can cause significant harm to a person’s financial well-being. The convenience of online shopping combined with the compulsion to make impulsive purchases can lead to financial hardship. 

This addiction may result in wasteful expenditure, debt accumulation, unwanted loans, and generally unstable finances. Some addicts might even go as far as taking out a second mortgage on their house to fund their online shopping addiction.

What are some common triggers that lead to excessive online shopping?

Common triggers that can lead to excessive online shopping include negative emotions, such as sadness, grief, anger, and frustration. Online shopping can release dopamine, a feel-good brain chemical. More specifically, according to Linnet in his 2014 article published in the Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience journal, the brain receives dopamine hits from the anticipation of a reward more than from the actual reward.

As a result, whenever someone experiences negative emotions, their brain recalls the dopamine “high” of online shopping and craves more.

Where can you seek an online shopping addiction diagnosis?

woman shopping for shoes

One can seek an online addiction diagnosis at the following:

  • A therapist
  • A psychiatrist
  • Any other mental health professional

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not include online shopping addiction, so there is no official diagnosis. However, a mental health professional will be able to assist an individual in identifying problematic behaviors, identifying symptoms, identifying risk factors, and working on a treatment plan.

What are the treatments available for online shopping addiction?

The treatments available for online shopping addiction are often a combination of the treatments listed below:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • A strong support structure of family and friends
  • Medication for underlying mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety

Can cognitive behavioral therapy treat an online shopping addiction?

Yes, cognitive behavioral therapy can treat an online shopping addiction, according to Mary Cross, a Canadian CBT therapist. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy (psychotherapy) that aims to help the patient identify and change negative behavioral or thought patterns.

CBT can help online shopping addicts to identify their triggers and emotions connected to their shopping compulsion. The patient will then get guidance from the therapist in modifying these negative ideas, which will eventually help them stop their online shopping addiction and learn better coping tools.

When should we seek treatment for online shopping addiction?

woman shopping

When a person starts to manifest some or all of the symptoms of online shopping addiction (preoccupation with online shopping, compulsive buying behavior, financial difficulties, withdrawal symptoms), they should seek treatment. Therapy or counseling is an effective treatment option for people struggling with controlling their shopping impulses.

According to the 2023 article “Shopping Addiction,” published on Healthline, treatment for compulsive shopping helps to break the pattern of (online) shopping, face the problem, and create new, healthier ways of feeling, thinking, and doing. The treatment process and length are determined by the counselor/therapist, however it’s typically no longer than a few weeks.

How long does online shopping addiction recovery typically take?

The timeline of online shopping addiction recovery differs for each addict. Some might be able to recover in a few weeks, while others could take a few months. There is no set treatment plan for online shopping addiction, as there is no official diagnosis in the DSM-5. 

Although, a compulsive buyer can relapse after full recovery and again fall into a shopping addiction. Thus online shopping addiction recovery is a lifelong process.

How is online shopping addiction prevented?

Online shopping addiction can be prevented by implementing tactics to limit temptations and promote healthier online buying behaviors. Limiting internet use and access to certain websites is one strategy to prevent shopping addiction. When someone notices problematic buying behavior, they should reach out to their friends and family for support.

What are some effective strategies for managing online shopping addiction?

Effective strategies to manage an online shopping addiction are listed below:

  • Make bank cards more difficult to get hold of by keeping them in a car or a similar less convenient area.
  • Unsubscribe from all promotional emails and text messages.
  • Enforce a slower spending habit, meaning require a waiting period (a few hours) before completing an online purchase to encourage reflection.
  • If needed, block internet access to sites that trigger impulsive spending.
  • Try to find other hobbies to keep busy and take one’s mind off online shopping.
  • Change up one’s daily routine to ensure there is little or no time to spend online shopping.
  • Join a self-help group, such as Spenders Anonymous, to meet up with people who can provide support and understanding.

How do online shopping addiction and internet addiction relate to each other?

Internet addiction and online shopping addiction both rely on the internet to fuel their addiction. Individuals with internet addiction spend a great deal of time on the internet, to the point that it starts to interfere with other aspects of their lives, according to an article written by the Australian Department of Health. Typically an online shopping addict could also be classified as an internet addict.

What is the difference between online shopping and traditional shopping addiction?

woman in jeans holding shopping bags

A traditional shopping addiction refers to addicts who spend copious amounts of money and time at the shops and feel compelled to purchase unnecessary items. Online shopping addiction is defined the same, except that shopping occurs through an internet store, not a brick-and-mortar shop.

According to Addiction Center, in a recent study, online shopping behaviors of people with a shopping addiction were monitored, and it was discovered that one-third of the participants had developed an online shopping addiction as well.