What Is a Shopping Addiction?

What to Do If You Think You're a Shopaholic

Asian woman using the smart mobile phone for check online shopping order is completed with clothes beside the glassess in store shop with happy action at department center
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Shopping addiction is a behavioral addiction that involves compulsive buying as a way to feel good and avoid negative feelings, such as anxiety and depression. Like other behavioral addictions, shopping addiction can take over as a preoccupation that leads to problems in other areas of your life.

Oniomania (compulsive shopping, or what's more commonly referred to as shopping addiction) is perhaps the most socially acceptable addiction. Think about it: We are surrounded by advertising that tells us that buying will make us happy.

We are encouraged by politicians to spend as a way of boosting the economy. And, for some of us, there is an allure of wanting what everyone else seems to have. Consumerism, by our own intentions or not (or some combination), has become a measure of social worth.

Almost everyone shops to some degree, but only about 6% of the U.S. population is thought to have a shopping addiction.

Although widespread consumerism has escalated recently, shopping addiction is not a new disorder. It was recognized as far back as the early nineteenth century and was cited as a psychiatric disorder in the early twentieth century.

Learn more about the symptoms, causes, and ways to cope if you have a shopping addiction.

Signs of Shopping Addiction

Signs that a person might have a shopping addiction include:

  • Always thinking about things they plan to purchase
  • Being unable to stop their compulsive shopping
  • Experiencing a rush of euphoria after buying something
  • Feeling regret or guilt about things they have purchased
  • Financial problems or an inability to pay off debts
  • Lying about things they have bought or hiding their purchases
  • Opening new credit cards without paying off balances on existing cards
  • Purchasing things they don't need
  • Shopping when they are stressed or sad

People who struggle with shopping addiction typically spend more time and money on shopping than they can afford, and many get into financial problems as a result of their overspending.

Shopping addiction can involve impulsive and compulsive spending, producing a temporary high. People addicted to shopping often feel empty and unsatisfied with their purchases when they get home.

Items purchased during a compulsive shopping spree are often hoarded unused, and compulsive shoppers begin to plan their next spending spree. Most shop alone, although some shop with others who enjoy it. Generally, shopping with people who don’t share this type of enthusiasm for shopping will lead to embarrassment.

Causes of Shopping Addiction

The exact causes of shopping addiction on not entirely clear, but several factors may play a role.

Other Mental Health Conditions

Usually beginning in one's late teens and early adulthood, shopping addiction often co-occurs with other disorders, including mood and anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, eating disorders, other impulse control disorders, and personality disorders.

Personality Characteristics

This difficulty in controlling the desire to shop emerges from a personality pattern that shopaholics share, and that differentiates them from most other people. Often low in self-esteem, they are easily influenced, and are often kindhearted, sympathetic, and polite to others, although they are often lonely and isolated. Shopping gives them a way to seek out contact with others.

Some people develop shopping addiction to try and boost their self-esteem, although it doesn't tend to be very effective for this.


People with shopping addiction tend to be more materialistic than other shoppers and try to prop themselves up by seeking status through material objects and seeking approval from others. They engage in fantasy more than other people, and—as with other people with addictions—have difficulty resisting their impulses.

Exposure to Advertising

People with a shopping addiction may be more susceptible to marketing and advertising messages that surround us daily. While advertising, in general, is designed to exaggerate the positive results of purchase and suggest that the purchase will lead to an escape from life's problems, certain marketing tricks are designed to trigger impulse buying and specifically target the impulsive nature of people with a shopping addiction.

Retail Therapy

As with other addictions, shopping addiction is usually a way of coping with life's emotional pain and difficulty. Unfortunately, it tends to make things worse rather than better for the shopper.

People who gain pleasure and escape negative feelings through shopping sometimes call it "retail therapy." This phrase implies that you can get the same benefit from buying yourself something as you would from engaging in counseling or therapy. This is an incorrect and unhelpful idea. 

While the term retail therapy is often used in a tongue-in-cheek manner, some people, including shopaholics, actively make time to shop simply as a way to cope with negative feelings. 

Although there are circumstances when a new purchase can solve a problem, this is not typically thought of as retail therapy. Usually, the things people buy when engaging in retail therapy are unnecessary, and the corresponding financial cost may reduce resources for solving other life problems.

Normal Shopping vs. Shopping Addiction

So what is the difference between normal shopping, occasional splurges, and shopping addiction? As with all addictions, what sets shopping addiction apart from other types of shopping is that the behavior becomes the person’s main way of coping with stress. People will continue to shop excessively even when it is hurting other areas of their life.

Normal Shopping
  • Purchased items are needed and used

  • No sense of compulsion

  • Does not cause financial distress

  • Occasional splurges

Shopping Addiction
  • Purchased items are often not needed or used

  • Compulsive shopping behavior

  • Creates financial problems for the individual

  • Constant overbuying

As with other addictions, money problems can develop and relationships can become damaged, yet people with shopping addiction (sometimes called "shopaholics") feel unable to stop or even control their spending.

Online shopping addiction is a form of internet addiction, and people with social anxiety are particularly vulnerable to developing this type, as it does not require any face-to-face contact. Like other cyber addictions, it feels anonymous.

Compulsive vs. Impulsive Shopping

Impulse buying is an unplanned purchase that happens on the spur of the moment in reaction to the immediate desire to have something you see in a shop. Impulse buying is a little different from compulsive buying, which is typically more pre-planned as a way of escaping negative feelings. But again, people with shopping addiction may engage in both types of addictive buying.

Is Shopping Addiction a Real Addiction?

Despite its long history, shopping addiction is controversial, and experts and the public disagree about whether shopping addiction is a real addiction.

Like other behavioral addictions, some experts balk at the idea that excessive spending is an addiction. Many believe that there has to be a psychoactive substance that produces symptoms, such as physical tolerance and withdrawal, for an activity to be a true addiction.

There is also some disagreement among professionals about whether compulsive shopping should be considered an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), impulse control disorder (like kleptomania, or compulsive stealing), mood disorder (like depression), or behavioral addiction (like gambling disorder).

Shopping addiction is not recognized as a distinct condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR).

How Shopping Can Be Like Other Addictions

There are several characteristics that shopping addiction shares with other addictions. As with other addictions:

  • People who over-shop become preoccupied with spending and devote significant time and money to the activity. Actual spending is important to shopping addiction; window shopping does not constitute an addiction, and the addictive pattern is driven by the process of spending money.
  • Shopping addiction is highly ritualized and follows a typically addictive pattern of thoughts about shopping and planning shopping trips.
  • Shopping is often described as pleasurable, ecstatic, and relieving negative feelings.
  • After shopping, the shopper experiences disappointment, guilt, regret, anger, or shame.

Compulsive shoppers use shopping as a way of escaping negative feelings, such as depression, anxiety, boredom, and anger, as well as self-critical thoughts. Unfortunately, the escape is short-lived.

How to Cope With Shopping Addiction

Overcoming any addiction requires learning alternative ways of handling the stress and distress of everyday existence. This can be done independently, but people often benefit from counseling or therapy.

In the meantime, there is a lot you can do to reduce the harm of compulsive spending and get the problematic behavior under control. Developing your own spending plan can be a good first step. 

Other steps you can take that might help include:

  • Develop other coping strategies: Finding alternative ways of enjoying your leisure time is essential to breaking the cycle of using shopping as a way of trying to feel better about yourself.
  • Enlist the help of others: If someone else in your family can take responsibility for shopping for essentials, such as food and household items, it can help to delegate the responsibility to them, at least temporarily, while you seek help.
  • Limit access to credit and cash: It is a good idea to get rid of credit cards and keep only a small amount of emergency cash on you, so you can't impulse buy.  
  • Don't shop with other compulsive shoppers: Shopping only with friends or relatives who do not compulsively spend is also a good idea, as they can help curb your spending.

When to Get Help

Compulsive shopping appears to respond well to various treatments, including:

Some of the personality characteristics found in the "shopaholic" personality bode well for the ability to develop and respond well to a therapeutic relationship, which is the best predictor of success in addiction treatment. It should be noted, however, that although some medications show promise, results are mixed, so they should not be considered a sole or reliable treatment.

If you believe you may have a shopping addiction, discuss possible treatments with your doctor. If your doctor doesn't take your shopping problem seriously, you might find a psychologist more helpful (and you might reconsider your relationship with your physician all together).


Psychotherapy can help understand the emotional roots of your shopping addiction. It can also help you find ways to overcome your tendency to use shopping to cope. These are important aspects of recovery from this confusing condition.

Your relationships may have suffered as a result of your over-shopping. Psychological support can also help you make amends and restore trust with those who may have been hurt by your behavior. You may also find that therapy helps deepen your relationships by leading you to understand better how to connect with other people in ways that don't revolve around money.

Financial Counseling

Depending on how serious your shopping addiction is, you may also find it helpful to get financial counseling, particularly if you have acquired debts by spending more than you earn.

You could make an appointment with a financial advisor or consultant at your bank to discuss options for restricting your access to easy spending, explore strategies for paying off bank debts and bank charges, and put money into less accessible savings accounts as a way of interrupting the easy access to cash that tends to fuel the addiction.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

Shopping addiction can be as distressing as any other addiction. But there is hope, and support from those around you can help you to control your spending. Remember, you are a worthwhile person, no matter how much or how little you own.

12 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • Christenson G, Faber R, de Zwaan M, Raymond N, Specker S, Ekern M, Mackenzie T, Crosby R, Crow S, Eckert E, et al. “Compulsive buying: descriptive characteristics and psychiatric comorbidity.” J Clin Psychiatry.55(1):5-11. Jan 1994.

  • Lejoyeux, M.D., Ph.D., M., Ades, M.D., J., Tassain, Ph.D., V. & Solomon, Ph.D., J. "Phenomenology and psychopathology of uncontrolled buying." Am J Psychiatry, 153:1524-1529. 1996.

  • Mueller A, de Zwaan M. “Treatment of compulsive buying.” Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr. 76:478-83. Aug 2008.

By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.