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Shopping Addiction – A Behavior Problem

In recent years, excessive and compulsive shopping is being recognized by mental health experts as a behavioral addiction.

Development of shopping addiction in some people

Obsessive-compulsive behavior of shopping addiction which is impacting a growing number of people is studied to have four phases that keep repeating:

Anticipation phase: In this phase a person develops persistent feelings and obsessive thoughts about one particular item or with a single action around shopping.

Preparation phase: In this phase preparation and planning happens. The person constantly thinks about things such as where to buy, how to go there, and which credit cards to use

Shopping phase: This execution phase where the actual experience of shopping happens generally includes intense feelings of exhilaration.

Spending phase: Paying for the purchase comes immediately after shopping. This phase is said to generate feelings of regret and guilt leading to feelings of sadness and depression. To overcome these negative feelings, the person goes back to the vicious cycle of the four phases.

Characteristics of shopping addiction

People with shopping behavior issues have certain characteristics. These include:

  • Using shopping as a coping mechanism to numb emotional pain
  • Being secretive about their shopping trips
  • Urge for shopping triggered by stress factors such as low self-esteem, feelings of loneliness, and other negative emotions
  • Impulse buying to the point where their shelves are filled with unopened items.
  • Experiencing a rush of euphoria from purchasing the process rather than from owning the item
  • Frequent use of credit card to post-pone the stress of paying the debt to the immediate gratification and the euphoria of purchasing experience
  • Buying followed by feelings of remorse and guilt and remorse which  in turn could trigger more shopping, making this a vicious cycle

Consequences of shopping addiction

In addition to the economic costs associated with the buying problem, experts believe it to being a true mental health disorder. This is because abnormal shopping behavior continues or even intensifies in spite of clearly noticeable negative consequences. The consequences may include:

  • Mental agony and distress including guilt and remorse
  • Too much time devoted to the buying process
  • Overspending and going into debt
  • Job-related problems due to online shopping
  • Social problems as a result of excess spending, especially marital discord and divorce

Treatment to the problem

While there is no standard treatment for shopping addiction, medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are the two common options.

Studies that tested the use of medication generally used to treat anxiety and depression to treat shopping addiction did not give consistent results. Research is still ongoing.  

A common method of treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy.  This therapy involves a process of identifying and correcting problem behaviors connected with the way a person thinks, behaves, and feels, all of which might be contributing to their addiction or compulsive behaviors related to shopping.

Balance Between Normal Shopping and Shopaholism (or Compulsive Buying Disorder)

Everyone enjoys a good shopping experience. In fact, it is an essential part of regular life. It also feels good to go on a stroll in the mall, or finding a favorite item on sale. But how to balance a retail pick-me-up therapy with the extreme shopping addiction or compulsive behavior in some people, turning the issue into even addiction in a few of them.

Shopping addiction or spending behavior problem has specific terms. The terms are Shopaholism, Oniomania, or Compulsive Buying Disorder (CBD). Explained in everyday language, it is a behavioral disorder characterized by an obsession and a very strong impulse to buy things.

This excessive part of the buying behavior, an otherwise normal action, results in negative consequences. If left unchecked, it can drag people into severe financial problems and social problems similar to other well-known addictions like alcoholism and gambling addiction.

Compared to other types of addiction, shopping addiction often goes undetected by family and friends till debt becomes unmanageable or till it leads to other issues that bring the underlying problem to light.

It is essential to understand that people with Compulsive Buying Disorder usually also suffer from other mental health issues. It could be that abnormal shopping impulses are the person’s way of handling anxiety, depression, or bad moods. However, as with other addictions, excessive buying activity over a long period of time can make people even worse due to the inevitable consequences such as debt and social issues.

Studies identified an observational method to diagnose shopping addiction by looking for behavioral patterns such as:

  • Frequent fights and arguments about money with loved ones
  • Maxing out or exceeding credit card limits
  • Taking several lines of credit or loans
  • Frequent overdrafts on debit cards
  • Asking friends and family for money without a valid reason.

Unfortunately, people with extreme patterns of compulsive shopping behavior who are faced with piling debt could even resort to lying, theft, or financial fraud to continue with their addiction.

Due to a lack of sufficient research into shopping addiction, it is not recognized as a mental health disorder yet. Scientists are still debating whether compulsive and excessive buying should be considered as an impulse-control, obsessive-compulsive, or addictive disorder. Bue, many health care professionals agree that compulsive shopping has all the characters of a process addiction associated with mental health issues.

People with a shopping addiction usually shop alone, even if their friends share their love of shopping. For them, it’s a private pleasure, and they may feel embarrassed about their unusual behavior.

The first step to get help is to acknowledge that you have a problem related to shopping which is not normal. Once you take this step, you will have the motivation to look for help. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a recommended method of treatment. It involves identifying and correcting problems associated with the way people feel, think and behave that are related to the addiction or compulsive behaviours.


The basic purpose of shopping, is to purchase items which you need. The fundamental item which validates your shopping is money.

Therefore, if you have money, you can purchase whatever you want to. There are some people who show good habits and mental health acts when they are shopping, and there are those who find it totally impossible to control themselves.

People who are not addicted to shopping are meticulous in doing so. What they do prior to shopping is, they make a list of the items they need, and they see if it fits with their budget. They also set a spending limit, so that they would not exceed their budget.

In addition to this, people who are not addicted to shopping have a good sense of what is necessary, and what is not, so they shop in line with that. These set of people are very structured when it comes to spending.

For those who are addicted to shopping, their case is totally different. First off, they do not make concrete plans as regards shopping. They are moved by the items in the store where they are going to.

They do not have a budget for their spending, and a good number of times, they go for what is necessary.

Usually, when they are done shopping, and they are going through the items at home, they discover they had left out an important item, and at this point, their money would have been exhausted.

The downside of shopping addiction is, if care is not taken, this set of people can go to the length of stealing money or defrauding people, so that they can satisfy their addiction needs.

Shopping addicts are so unpredictable, one point they want to buy something, and the next, they have changed their mind. This happens basically because they do not know what they want.

To wrap it up, people who have shopping addiction tend to pick up quarrels and disagreement with the shop attendants, and the reason for this is not far-fetched, it is because their minds are not usually made up.