Compulsive spending has many names: shopping addiction, oniomania, impulsive buying, shopaholism, and more. Although compulsive spending is not an official diagnosis, it resembles other addictions. People with oniomania often invest excessive time and resources to shop. They may not know what need they are trying to fill, but the compulsion to buy is still strong.
A 2004 survey estimates 5.8% of adults in the United States have a shopping addiction. Some studies show higher rates among online shoppers, perhaps due to the internet’s convenience and anonymity. The condition can cause financial concerns, relationship conflict, and personal distress. Oniomania can be as difficult to stop as any other compulsion or addiction.
However, compulsive spending is treatable. Therapy can help a person move past addiction and take back control over their life.
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Where does one draw the line between a shopping hobby and an addiction? Researchers at Bergen University have developed a tool to answer this question. The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale adapts criteria from other addictions.
If someone shows four out of the seven behaviors on the scale, they likely have a shopping addiction:
- Obsessing about shopping all the time
- Shopping to improve one’s mood
- Buying more items to feel the same satisfaction as before
- Buying so much one cannot fill daily responsibilities such as school
- Buying so much it has affected one’s well-being
- Being unable to cut back on shopping, even if one wishes to do so
- Feeling bad if one cannot shop
Research suggests most people with shopping addiction are young and female. The condition usually starts in late adolescence or early adulthood. The prevalence seems to decrease with age.
One 2016 study in Brazil analyzed how male and female compulsive spenders differ. Male participants were more likely to be non-heterosexual. They also had higher rates of co-occuring diagnoses such as intermittent explosive behavior.
Personality may also impact compulsive spending. According to a 2015 study, extroversion and neuroticism are linked to shopping addiction. The study’s authors believe extroverts may use shopping to enhance social status. Meanwhile, neurotic individuals might shop to reduce negative emotions. People who are conscientious or agreeable are less likely to develop shopping addiction.
Many cultures today condone and even encourage materialism. Shopping for immediate personal gratification has been glorified as “retail therapy.” Overspending is easy to do in a world that provides broad access to credit. Although compulsive spending may have its roots in these cultural influences, the behavior is typically linked to more complex issues.
Some people believe buying the right object is the key to attaining happiness. This object could be a car, an item of clothing, or even virtual goods. Some people feel compelled to keep spending, even when they experience negative consequences
People’s goals can vary as much as their purchases. According to Shopaholics Anonymous, people with a shopping addiction may fall into one or more of these categories:
- Compulsive shoppers: These people often use shopping an emotion-regulation strategy. They may shop to reduce negative feelings or to enhance and prolong positive ones. Compulsive shoppers might feel euphoria during the search for and purchase of an item. Yet they often feel guilt afterwards, which leads to anxiety, which leads to more shopping.
- Collector shoppers: People in this category often wish to complete a set of objects, such as trading cards or golf clubs. They may wish to have variations of an object, such as different colors of the same purse.
- Image shoppers: These individuals often buy expensive items. They may use purchases to boost their self-esteem and social status.
- Codependent shoppers: These people shop to gain greater social acceptance. They may believe the right item will earn approval and affection from others.
- Bargain shoppers: These people often buy items they don’t need. Their goal is to get a good deal.
- Trophy shoppers: These individuals resemble bargain shoppers because they enjoy “hunting” for the right object. However, they are focused on getting the perfect item rather than a good deal.
Compulsive shopping has been linked to many other psychological conditions. Certain diagnoses may prompt compulsive spending. Shopping addiction may in turn affect one’s mental health. It can be difficult to pinpoint where one issue begins and the other ends.
People with shopping addiction often prioritize short-term gratification over long-term consequences. Because of this tendency, some researchers classify shopping addiction as an impulse control problem.
Other experts claim shopping addiction is compulsive behavior. Compulsive hoarding is closely linked to compulsive spending in several ways. Both conditions typically involve:
- An overwhelming desire to own certain items, even when those objects aren’t needed.
- A fear of losing (or missing the chance to buy) said item.
- Unusual meaning and value placed on inanimate objects.
Lastly, a 2014 study showed shopping addiction is highly comorbid with depression. Other research suggests shopping addiction helps individuals boost their serotonin and dopamine levels. In these cases, the impulse to buy may stem from neurological and emotional needs. Buying may provide temporary relief, but most people feel remorse after the sale.
Therapy can treat compulsive spending and any related conditions. If you or a loved one struggles with a shopping addiction, you can find a therapist here.
- Addicted to shopping? (2017, October 11). University of Bergen News. Retrieved from http://www.uib.no/en/news/91783/addicted-shopping
- Andreassen, C. S., Griffiths, M. D., Pallesen, S., Bilder, R. M., Torsheime, T., & Aboujaoude, E. (2015, September 17). The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale: Reliability and validity of a brief screening test. Frontiers in Psychology. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01374
- Black, Donald. (2007, February). A review of compulsive buying disorder. World Psychiatry, 6(1). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1805733
- Filomensky, T.Z., de Mattos, C. N., Kim, H. S., Requiao, M. G., Marasaldi, R. F., Hodgins, D. C., & Tavares, H. (2016, December 1). Gender differences in compulsive buying disorder: Assessment of demographic and psychiatric co-morbidities. PLoS ONE, 11(12). Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0167365#sec019
- Koran, L. M., Faber, R. J., Aboujaoude, E., Large, M. D., & Serpe, R. T. (2006). Estimated prevalence of compulsive buying behavior in the United States. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 163(10), 1806-12. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/220500938?accountid=1229
- Kyrios, M., Frost, R. O., & Steketee, G. (2004). Cognitions in compulsive buying and acquisition. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 28(2), 241-258. doi:10.1023/B:COTR.0000021543.62799.32
- What is compulsive shopping? (n.d.) The Shulman Center. Retrieved from http://www.shopaholicsanonymous.org