Shop ‘Til You Drop – The Seriousness of Shopping Addiction


Despite its lack of media coverage, shopping addiction affects more than 18 million American adults. Also known as compulsive shopping or compulsive buying disorder, shopping addiction is characterized by a compulsion to spend money regardless of financial capability or a legitimate need for the product in question. While the American Psychiatry Association (APA) does not recognize compulsive buying as a distinctive mental disorder, research shows that the consequences of shopping addiction can be wholly devastating. Those who suffer from this disorder may be fixated on a specific product, such as clothing, makeup, or food. They may compulsively buy automobiles or real estate, or uncontrollably invest money in the stock market. Making purchases provides those suffering from shopping addiction with the same temporary emotional high and mental relief that an alcoholic might experience upon taking the first drink. A rush of adrenaline and dopamine that the brain begins to associate with shopping – a feeling that the afflicted individual will continue to chase and attempt to recreate again and again, despite steadily accumulating personal costs.

Types of Shopping Addiction

There are many differing types of shopping addiction, just as there are many differing types of compulsive gambling and sex addiction. The specific symptoms of behavioral addictions vary greatly from person-to-person, though the consequences all tend to be somewhat similar. When it comes to compulsive buying disorder, consequences may include:

  • Financial troubles/bankruptcy
  • Interpersonal issues/marital issues
  • Preoccupation with shopping, leading to a decline in attention paid to responsibilities and obligations
  • Problems in a professional setting/decline in work ethic
  • Problems with the law/stealing and lying in order to continue shopping
  • Regret, remorse, or shame that may lead to depression/other mental disorders

According to Shopaholics Anonymous, a 12-step program designed for those suffering from compulsive shopping, there are six distinctive types of shopaholic, including:

  • Individuals who shop for flashy and expensive items in order to portray an image of affluence and wealth
  • Individuals who compulsively shop when they are feeling emotionally distressed as a means of self-medication and coping
  • Compulsive collectors who feel incomplete and dissatisfied unless they have every piece of a set, or one of every item in all available colors, etc.
  • Bargain shoppers who compulsively buy items they do not need, simply because they are on sale
  • Trophy shoppers, who are constantly on the hunt for the ‘perfect’ item – the item that will make them feel complete and content
  • Bulimic shoppers, who get caught in a vicious and unending cycle of purchasing and returning items

Causes of Compulsive Shopping

Just like most other behavioral addictions, compulsive shopping often stems from unresolved emotional pain – a deep-seated need to fill a long-standing emotional void. This void may have been caused by early childhood trauma, or from an enduring lack of self-esteem. It may have been caused by feelings of loneliness or lack of control. The Journal of Behavioral Addictions suggests that common predictors of shopping addiction include high anxiety, difficulty regulating emotions, depression, and psychotic episodes. Of course, just with any other addictive disorder, there is never any one root cause – the origin of the disorder will inevitably vary depending on the personal history of the afflicted. It has been proven, however, that compulsive shopping stimulates the reward center in the brain, giving rise to an intense feeling of euphoria that one may become dependent upon.

Treatment for Shopping Addiction

Upbringing may also play an important role in the propensity to shop compulsively. Shopping disorders tend to trickle down from generation to generation – especially in families with a history of substance abuse disorders, mood disorders, and personality disorders. Research has also linked shopping addiction to a lack of fulfilling interpersonal relationships. Some may turn to materialism in order to fulfill their emotional needs; however, even more separation and isolation is caused by prioritizing purchases over developing relationships, thus an injurious cycle is set in motion. Fortunately, regardless of the cause and the consequences, treatment is available. Because co-occurring disorders are exceedingly common amongst compulsive shoppers, intensive therapeutic care is often recommended. We at Next Chapter treat shopping addiction as a primary disorder, and understand the importance of treating all existing disorders simultaneously. For more information, please reach out today – our addiction specialists are standing by to answer any and all of your questions.