What It Is

Shopping addiction, often referred to as compulsive-buying disorder or compulsive shopping, affects approximately six percent of the U.S. population. While many people enjoy shopping or treat it as a recreational activity, compulsive shopping is considered a mental health disorder and can cause severe financial consequences for the addict. In general, shopping addiction is the compulsive need to spend money, regardless of need or financial means. The addict may be addicted to a certain product, such as clothes or jewelry, but a compulsive shopper may buy anything from food and beauty products to stocks or real estate. Medical experts believe that a compulsive shopper gets the same rush or “high” from making purchases as a drug addict gets from using.

Symptoms and Signs

A shopping addiction may only be detectable by those closest to the addict. Many compulsive shoppers convey an image of wealth and success while in reality they are severely in debt. If the individual is unable to stop shopping or suffers from large amounts of shopping debt, an addiction may be present. A shopping addict will usually display some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Obsession with shopping and making purchases on a daily or weekly basis
  • Use of shopping to cope with emotional distress or stressful circumstances
  • Maxing out credit cards or opening new ones without paying off previous balances
  • Intense feelings of euphoria or excitement after making purchases
  • Buying unnecessary things or purchasing items that go unused
  • Stealing or lying in order to perpetuate shopping habits
  • Feeling regret or remorse over purchases but continuing to shop
  • Inability to pay off debt or manage money appropriately
  • Failed attempts to stop compulsive shopping

Treatment Options

Shopping addiction can be difficult to manage, since making purchases is a normal part of every day life. Depending on the severity of the addiction, a shopping addict may need to be removed from daily activities or initially “cut off” from credit cards or cash flow. In rare cases, an addict may need to attend an inpatient addiction rehabilitation program.

Most often, however, shopping addiction can be treated with behavioral therapy methods in individual counseling. The addict must learn how to develop impulse control and also to identify triggers. Often times, shopping addiction may stem from deeper emotional issues or mental health conditions. It may be helpful to explore this possibility with a mental health expert.

Shopping addicts can also benefit from money management classes or 12-step recovery programs like Shopaholics Anonymous or Debtors Anonymous.

Expectations

Initially, shopping addicts may need a family member or close friend to help them manage money in the early stages of recovery. Ultimately, however, it is the responsibility of the addict to learn appropriate spending habits. The most difficult part of a shopping addiction is dealing with the financial repercussions of the addictive behavior. The addict may need to file for bankruptcy, refinance his or her mortgage, or take on an extra job in order to pay off debt. Also, a shopping addict may have difficulty finding a job or renting a home if his or her credit score was severely affected.

Despite the challenges, however, a shopping addict can typically learn to manage the addiction and adapt more healthy spending behaviors. 

Resources

More information about compulsive shopping and resources for helping a shopping addict can be found by contacting the following organizations:

  • Shopaholics Anonymous
  • Debtors Anonymous
  • Spenders Anonymous
  • Addicted.com
  • USA Credit Council