Shopping addiction, also known as compulsive buying disorder, or compulsive shopping, affects about 18 million adults in the United States. It’s described as the compulsion to spend money, regardless of need or financial means. While many people enjoy shopping as a treat or as a recreational activity, compulsive shopping is a mental health disorder and can cause severe consequences.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) does not officially recognize shopping addiction as a distinct disorder, and considerable debate surrounds the legitimacy of the disorder.
People with this disorder may be addicted to a certain product, such as clothes or jewelry, or may also buy anything from food and beauty products, to stocks or real estate.
The person with a shopping addiction gets the same rush or high from making purchases as someone who misuses drugs gets from using. Once the brain associates shopping with this pleasure or high, the person with a shopping addiction will try to recreate it again and again.
Little is known about this addiction. Research is mixed, with some studies showing that women are more likely to have this addiction than men. Other research has shown that men and women have an equal risk of developing the disorder.
Some studies show that the average age of a person with a shopping addiction is 30. Other studies show that it happens between ages 18 and 20, when people are able to establish their own credit. However, more research still needs to be done.
Someone with a shopping addiction may hide their problem well, and sometimes the only ones who know about their problem are those closest to them. People with a compulsive buying disorder may hide their purchases or seem like they have plenty of money to spend on shopping.
Many compulsive shoppers convey an image of wealth and success, while in reality they are deeply in debt. If they are unable to stop shopping or have large amounts of shopping debt, they may have an addiction.
A person with a shopping addiction may:
- obsess over making purchases on a daily or weekly basis
- shop to cope with stress
- max out credit cards or open new ones without paying off previous balances
- feel intense euphoria or excitement after making purchases
- buy unnecessary things or purchase items that go unused
- steal or lie in order to continue shopping
- feel regret or remorse over purchases, but continue to shop
- be unable to pay off debt or manage money
- fail in attempts to stop compulsive shopping
Shopping addiction can be difficult to manage, as making purchases is a normal part of everyday life. Everyone has to purchase food regularly, and things like clothing, personal products, and cars from time to time. But simply ceasing to buy can’t treat a shopping addiction.
Depending on the severity of the shopping addiction, the compulsive buyer may need to be “cut off” from cash flow.
Someone else may need to be in charge of their finances. In rare cases, a person with shopping addiction may need to check in to an inpatient addiction program.
Most often, a shopping addiction can be treated with behavioral therapy and individual counseling. The person with a shopping addiction must develop impulse control and also learn to identify triggers.
In many cases, shopping addiction may stem from deeper emotional issues or mental health conditions. If it stems from depression or other mental health issues, medication may help. A mental health expert can help determine if this is a possibility.
Treatment aims to interrupt the self-perpetuating cycle, face the issue, and develop new, healthy ways of thinking, feeling, and acting.
Also, creating a support network of friends and family and others with shopping addictions can overcome their issues and go on to live a healthy and fulfilling life.
Money management classes or 12-step recovery programs like Shopaholics Anonymous or Debtors Anonymous are also available. These groups offer a positive source of support during recovery. Many people with a shopping addiction use them for years after they begin recovery.
If someone with a shopping addiction is having difficulty with debt and getting out of it, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers some tips to relieve debt and repair credit.
If a shopping addiction is left untreated, compulsive shoppers will find themselves going deeper and deeper into debt. They may lose friends and the trust of loved ones in the process. They could even lose their home or property if they are unable to manage their money.
Someone with a shopping addiction may turn to stealing to support their habit, leading to arrests and criminal charges. Sometimes, they will only ask for help when they “hit bottom” and serious events occur.
To overcome the addiction, people with a buying disorder may need a family member or close friend to help them manage their money in the early stages of recovery. But ultimately it’s their responsibility to learn appropriate spending habits. The most difficult part of a shopping addiction is dealing with the financial results of addictive behavior.
Someone with a shopping addiction may need to file for bankruptcy, refinance their mortgage, or take on an extra job in order to pay off debt. Also, they may have a hard time finding a job or renting a home if they have a low credit score.
Like other addictions, a compulsive shopper can relapse. But with the right support, they can learn coping strategies and get back on the road to recovery. Despite challenges, a person with a shopping addiction can learn to manage the addiction and adopt healthier spending behaviors.