Reading Time: < 12 Mins
Shopping addiction is a type of addiction where a person has a strong urge to keep buying, even though they have no finances to support their purchases. Also known as compulsive buying disorder and oniomania, shopping addiction can cause negative emotions when a person is unable to make a purchase. Persons with this problem also feel guilt and shame for their behavior but are unable to stop it.
Various causes can contribute to shopping addiction, ranging from mental health problems to low self-esteem. Shopping addiction has a lot in common with other behavioral addictions, such as sex addiction.
Unfortunately, this type of addiction is poorly studied. More studies are necessary to uncover all the mechanisms that lead to shopping addiction and define new treatment options.
Treating shopping addiction is tricky but achievable.
Shopping addiction is defined as a compulsion to spend money on making purchases, despite harmful consequences such as financial problems. A person addicted to shopping often buys things they don’t want or need.
Compulsive buying disorder was first described in the early 20th century when it was described as compulsive buying that leads to senseless debts with constant payment delays. Shopping addiction, as a type of behavioral addiction, is indicated by a lack of impulse control, which propels the person to act on its urges to buy, even if they are attempting to stop.
The prevalence of shopping addiction is around 5.8%, according to a study from the American Journal of Psychiatry. At the same time, between 80% and 95% of persons with a shopping addiction are females. The prevalence of this addiction is higher in developed countries such as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom than in developing nations.
Interestingly, shopping addiction is one of the most socially acceptable forms of addiction due to widespread consumerism.
Symptoms of shopping addiction are primarily psychological and behavioral or social. Unlike other behavioral addictions, this problem doesn’t cause physical symptoms such as a change in weight, skin problems, heart conditions, and other health concerns.
The most common psychological symptoms of shopping addiction include:
On the other hand, the most common social or behavioral symptoms of shopping addiction are:
Causes of shopping addiction can be associated with developmental, cultural, and neurobiological influences. The paper from World Psychiatry reports that the neurological background of shopping addiction could be linked to impaired neurotransmission, especially in opioid, dopaminergic, and serotonergic systems. In other words, people may develop shopping addiction because making a purchase may trigger the brain’s reward system to trigger the release of dopamine. As a result, they like how it makes them feel and want to experience it again.
The most common causes of shopping addiction are listed below:
Effects of shopping addiction can be short-term and long-term. They may vary from one person to another primarily because this type of addiction affects people differently.
Short-term effects of shopping addiction include:
Long-term effects of shopping addiction include:
Treatments for shopping addiction primarily focus on adopting positive shopping habits and managing underlying problems that led to the shopping addiction. Shopping addiction can be tricky to manage because buying things is a normal part of life. Every person has to purchase something at one point or another. For that reason, a person with a shopping addiction can’t simply cease exposure to the source of addictive behavior.
Treatments for shopping addiction are listed below:
To overcome shopping addiction, a person needs a strong support system from family and friends. At the same time, they also need self-help practices and coping strategies. For example, finding a new hobby can be helpful. Most people with shopping addiction start making purchases to cope with stress and other problems. The goal is to find a replacement for shopping and do a hobby that will promote relaxation and help a person overcome addictive behavior. Yoga and meditation are nice hobbies to try for this purpose.
People need to buy certain items to function normally, including food and clothes. To overcome their problem, persons with shopping addiction need to make lists of items they need and stick to them i.e. avoid buying anything that’s not on the list. Going grocery shopping with someone else helps a person stay on the right track.
Credit and debit cards often make people think they’re not spending actual money until they see the balance on their bank account statements. One way to control shopping addiction is to use cash only and avoid cards.
Persons who are addicted to online shopping may want to unsubscribe and block platforms and apps they use for shopping.
While these self-care methods can help increase the chance of successful recovery, keep in mind that they are not replacements for a well-structured treatment that involves therapy.
The most common shopping addiction types are:
Yes, drug options for shopping addiction are available in the presence of comorbidities such as mental health disorders. Many persons with shopping addiction also have anxiety or depression, which is why their treatment may include medications that manage these mental illnesses.
At this point, there is no specific medication for shopping addiction. Drug options include medications formulated to manage other problems, usually depression.
Although a lot more research is necessary on this subject, these medications may include:
Shopping addiction withdrawal symptoms are similar to those associated with behavioral addictions and substance use disorders. Every person with this problem may experience the withdrawal symptoms differently and they may occur at different times. The duration and severity of withdrawal symptoms depend on the intensity of addiction, compulsive shopping habits, presence of other mental health problems, and other factors.
The symptoms of shopping addiction withdrawal may include:
Symptoms of shopping addiction dependence are mainly observed through a strong urge to make purchases. First, it’s important to understand that addiction and dependence aren’t the same thing. The term dependence is usually associated with substance use disorders and refers to adaptations resulting in withdrawal symptoms when drugs are discontinued, according to a paper from the Annals of Medicine. While dependence isn’t necessarily an addiction, it can lead to it.
Basically, dependence happens when a person needs exposure to a certain addictive agent in order to generate positive feelings, but it is not exactly addiction.
In terms of shopping addiction, symptoms of shopping dependence may include:
Counseling for shopping addiction is necessary when a person develops risky purchasing habits. The exact time when shopping addiction counseling is necessary varies from one person to another.
Counseling is the right course of action when a person stops buying more items in order to feel better. They usually develop financial problems, get themselves into debts, and borrow money in order to continue making regular purchases for things they may not even want or need.
Besides the very beginning of the problematic shopping behaviors, counseling is also necessary for persons who have an addiction to shopping as a part of the treatment process.
According to a study from the American Journal on Addictions, shopping addiction counseling is effective, especially in group sessions.
The difference between compulsive and impulsive shopping lies in the internal motivation i.e. the reason for making a purchase. Impulsive buying is a more common behavior and refers to purchases we make without any deliberation i.e. a person buys something without thinking about it. In other words, impulsive shopping is a powerful, sudden urge to buy something immediately. It happens when the desire to purchase something is a lot stronger than a person’s ability to resist, a paper from the Wiley International Encyclopedia of Marketing explains.
On the flip side, compulsive shopping is a psychological disorder indicated by an uncontrollable urge to buy something. Failure to act on this urge induces tension that a person can get rid of only by purchasing a specific item or product. Compulsive shopping behavior is usually triggered by negative feelings or events and may lead to extreme consequences. Many people who buy something compulsively don’t even use those items, which suggests this behavior is mainly about short-term relief than about the desire to own a certain item/product.
Yet another compulsive vs. impulsive shopping aspect to bear in mind is that while impulsive buying happens at the moment due to an external trigger (e.g. seeing the desired product in the store), compulsive shopping is usually a planned experience. The trigger is internal primarily because it serves as an escape from troubling thoughts or feelings.
The psychological impact of shopping addiction can be short- and long-term. The short-term psychological effects of shopping addiction involve the feeling of pleasure and other positive emotions upon purchasing something. Many people feel happier after buying something they wanted. That being said, these feelings are often mixed with negative emotions such as guilt and anxiety. These negative feelings propel a person to purchase something again and the cycle continues. For that reason, this problem is a form of behavioral or psychological addiction and has similarities with sex addiction, according to a study from the Frontiers in Psychology.
The long-term psychological effects of shopping addiction are even more severe and complex. As a person experiences financial troubles due to shopping addiction, they may feel overwhelmed with debt. Being overwhelmed intensifies the feelings of guilt and anxiety. Additionally, some people with a shopping addiction may develop secondary hoarding disorders. In other words, shopping addiction can aggravate the psychological health and wellbeing of an individual.
A study from the Journal of Consumer Policy performed MRI on brains of persons with compulsive shopping and healthy buyers and found that the shopping problem changes activity in certain brain areas. More precisely, shopping addiction has a major impact on the brain region that regulates decision-making. This may explain why persons with shopping addiction can’t resist the urge to shop and buy things to escape from their feelings. It also contributes to the fact that people with a shopping addiction may not know the distinction between want and need.
To sum up, shopping addiction harms the psychological health and wellbeing of an individual. It worsens their mental health and may further contribute to anxiety and depression.