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Shopping Addiction/ Compulsive Buying Disorder (CBD): Signs, Causes and Treatment

Shopping addiction or compulsive buying disorder refers to excessive, unnecessary shopping to feel pleasure and escape negative emotions. Shopping addiction manifests as preoccupation with shopping, unnecessary purchases, euphoria after shopping, regret, and debt accumulation.

Shopping addiction is caused primarily by low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and materialism. These causes result in short-term and long-term effects. The short-term effects are intense happiness after shopping and feeling anxious when stopped from shopping. The long-term effects are debt accumulation and relationship difficulties.  

To treat shopping addiction, a holistic approach of medications, self-help management, financial counseling, and psychotherapy is effective. 

What is Shopping addiction?

Shopping addiction or compulsive buying disorder is characterized by excessive shopping cognitions and buying behavior that leads to distress or impairment, as defined by Donald Wayne Black in a study published in the World Psychiatry Journal in 2007. 

Shopping addiction or compulsive shopping is a behavioral addiction defined as excessive buying as a way to feel pleasure and avoid negative emotions, according to Lorrin Koran, a Psychiatrist at Stanford University. Lorrin Koran further states that 1 in every 20 adults in the United States has a shopping addiction. 

What is the difference between normal shopping and Shopping addiction?

The difference between normal shopping and shopping addiction is that normal shopping is the act of buying goods out of necessity or luxury but without using it as an escape or buying for pleasure. However, shopping addiction is excessive buying, using shopping as an escape, hiding purchases, or buying for pleasure.  

What is the difference between impulsive shopping and compulsive shopping?

The difference between impulsive shopping and compulsive shopping is that impulsive shopping is unplanned and occurs due to external temptation, while compulsive shopping is habitual and is a response to negative feelings

An example of impulsive shopping is that while an individual is at the grocery store to get eggs, they might see and crave chocolate and buy it sporadically. On the other hand, an example of compulsive shopping is that the individual is habitual in buying loads of chocolate even when they don’t eat or need it. 

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Shopping addiction?

signs of shopping addiction

The signs and symptoms of shopping addiction are lack of impulse control, preoccupation with shopping, unnecessary purchases, euphoria after shopping, regret, debt accumulation, and hiding purchases.  

1. Lack of impulse control 

Impulse control is the ability to resist a drive to perform an action.

The most common symptom of shopping addiction is a lack of impulse control. Individuals with shopping addiction are unable to stop themselves from buying compulsively. It’s a sign of poor self-control where the individual doesn’t stop buying even if it’s not in their budget. 

According to a study published by Letty Workman and David Paper in The Journal of Business Inquiry in 2010, individuals with shopping addiction show a lack of impulse control and are unable to delay gratification when an impulse to buy strikes them. 

2. Preoccupation with shopping

Preoccupation is a stress-related constant thinking that is time‐consuming and associated with negative emotions.

An important sign and symptom of shopping addiction is always thinking about shopping. Individuals obsessed with shopping surf online stores and mostly talk about materialistic stuff. 

According to a study by Donald Wayne Black published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, thinking and planning out shopping is a sign of shopping addiction in the individual. 

3. Unnecessary purchases

An unnecessary purchase is an act of buying something you do not need. 

Individuals with shopping addiction buy things they do not need to maintain a personal and social identity. This action increases their self-esteem and fulfills the desire of compulsive buying. 

According to a study by Edyta Charzyńska et al. published in the Religious Journal in 2021, shopping addicts regularly spend money on purchases they do not intend, need, or cannot afford. 

4. Euphoria after shopping

Euphoria means a feeling of great happiness or well-being. 

Shopping addicts or compulsive buyers show extreme happiness after shopping. This feeling of happiness is caused by a dopamine rush after acting on an impulsive feeling.

Dr. Gary Christensen et al. state in a study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry that 83% of individuals with shopping addiction feel happy while shopping. This temporary feeling of euphoria is followed by a phase of bad mood and regret

5. Regret

Regret is a self-blame emotion that occurs when an individual realizes that their present state would have been different if they had acted differently in the past. 

A common symptom of shopping addiction is feeling regret after shopping. The individual feels regret after experiencing the momentary euphoria from shopping. This feeling of regret is usually due to overspending and debt accumulation. 

According to a 2014 study by Aliya Bushra and Bilal Ahmed, published in the Pakistan Journal of Commerce and Social Sciences, compulsive buying in pursuit of happiness and status leads to an increase in post-purchase regret.  

6. Debt accumulation

Debt accumulation is the process of borrowing money and building up large amounts of debt, either in cash or through credit cards. 

Individuals with shopping addiction have huge credit card debt. According to Transunion, the average American credit card debt was $6,218 in the first quarter of 2024. This sign and symptom of shopping addiction destroys relationships and causes depression. 

A study by Steven Schlosser et al. published in the General Hospital Psychiatry Journal found that 85% of persons with shopping addiction showed debt concerns, and 74% felt out of control regarding debt accumulation. 

7. Hiding purchases

Another sign and symptom of shopping addiction is to hide purchases from family. The reason for hiding one’s shopping is due to the fear of being confronted with extravagant spending

The focus of individuals with shopping addiction is buying and not the item itself, so they easily keep the purchases hidden, according to a study by Michel Lejoyeux and Aviv Weinstein published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse in 2010. 

What are the causes of Shopping addiction?

The causes of shopping addiction are low self-esteem, mental health disorders, using shopping as an escape, and materialism. 

1. Low-self Esteem

The most important cause of shopping addiction is low self-esteem. Shopping addicts take part in compulsive buying to fill the void of unworthiness and emptiness caused by low self-esteem. 

According to a study by Chenshu Zhang et al. published in Psychiatry Research in 2017, shopping addicts have low self-esteem and are easily influenced. Compulsive buying, however, does not boost their self-esteem. 

2. Mental Health Disorders

Shopping addiction co-occurs with other mental health conditions. Shopping addiction is significantly associated with substance use disorder and depression and anxiety disorders,  according to the same study by Chenshu Zhang et al., published in 2016 in the Journal of Addictive Diseases. 

3. Using Shopping as an Escape 

Individuals with shopping addiction use shopping as a means to escape from difficulties in life. These individuals see shopping as a therapy that would benefit them just like therapy. 

People addicted to shopping actively make time for shopping to cope with negative emotions, as mentioned by Michael R Solomon, Margaret K. Hogg, Søren Askegaard, and Gary Bamossy in their book ‘Consumer Behaviour: A European Perspective.’

4. Materialism

Materialism is a cause of shopping addiction among individuals who try to impress and seek approval from others. They seek social status from material objects to counter their low self-esteem. 

Compulsive buyers have a strong desire to possess material things and attain a positive sense of self, states Thomas O’Guinn, an American marketing professor, in his study published in the Journal of Consumer Research. 

What are the effects of Shopping addiction?

The effects of shopping addiction are anxiety and depression, financial issues, and relationship problems. 

1. Anxiety and depression

One of the main effects of shopping addiction is anxiety and depression. Although a shopping spree is followed by intense pleasure, it doesn’t last long and results in anxiety. Anxiety and depression occur due to overspending, fear of confrontation from family, and isolation. 

2. Financial issues

A major effect of shopping addiction is the financial crisis. Individuals with shopping addiction spend without budgeting and accumulate credit card debt. 

3. Relationship problems

A long-term effect of shopping addiction is relationship problems. Shopping addiction can strain one’s relationships due to neglect of responsibilities, financial crisis, hiding purchases, and constant lying. An individual suffering from shopping addiction lies and becomes aggressive when confronted by their loved ones, which leads to relationship difficulties. 

How does Shopping addiction affect your physical health?

Shopping addiction does not affect your physical health, unlike other behavioral addictions. Shopping addiction can affect mental health, which may lead to physical symptoms like sedentary behavior, weakness, and weight loss in the long run.  

How can Shopping addiction affect your mental health?

Shopping addiction affects your mental health by causing anxiety, depression, guilt, low self-esteem, debt issues, and relationship problems. The impulsive and compulsive shopping behaviors lead to regular mood swings, i.e, feelings of happiness during shopping followed by feelings of guilt and shame later. 

Tony Cassidy and Zara Adair from the School of Psychology, Ulster University, state in a study published in 2021 that compulsive buyers are more prone to lifetime depression and mood and anxiety disorders

How does Shopping addiction affect the brain?

Shopping addiction affects the brain by activating the dorsal and ventral striatum of the brain, states Patrick Trotzke et al. in their study published in Addiction Biology in 2021. The dorsal striatum controls motor and cognitive function, while the ventral striatum regulates the limbic system function of motivation and reward. 

Shopping addiction impairs executive functions and behavioral control due to dysregulation of brain structures like the striatum and frontal regions, according to a study ‘Neuroanatomical and neuropsychological correlates of shopping addiction behavior. A systematic review was published in 2023. 

What are the short term effects of shopping addiction?

The short term effects of shopping addiction are euphoria after shopping and anxiety and irritability when prevented from shopping. 

1. Euphoria after shopping

The short-term effect of shopping addiction is feelings of extreme happiness after shopping and relieving oneself from stress and boredom, but only temporarily. According to Letty Workman and David Paper from Utah State University, compulsive buyers feel a ‘happy’ state after shopping, followed by a feeling of a letdown. 

Dopamine and endorphins are released after a purchase, causing euphoria. An urge to re-experience these feelings of happiness can make one lose self-control during shopping. 

2. Anxiety and irritability when prevented from shopping

Another short-term effect of shopping addiction is feelings of anxiety and irritability when prevented from shopping. Shopping addicts show these signs because they are habitual in coping with difficult emotions through shopping, mentions Donald Wayne Blacket al. in their study published in Psychiatry Research in 2012.  

Additionally, they have a low dopamine level that causes anxiety and pushes them to react compulsively. 

What are the long term effects of shopping addiction?

The long-term effects of shopping addiction are financial problems and relationship difficulties. 

1. Financial Problems

A long-term effect of shopping addiction is financial problems like debt. Individuals suffering from shopping addiction cannot stop overspending, leading them to debt. They continue to max out their credit and store cards to a level they can not dig themselves out of. Pareen Sehat, a registered clinical counselor at Well Beings Counseling in Vancouver, Canada, states that these people may face financial difficulties. However, the negative effects still don’t stop them from shopping. 

2. Relationship Difficulties 

Shopping addiction in the long term leads to relationship issues due to continuous lying about expenses, hiding purchases, and ignoring personal responsibilities. Financial strains in a marital relationship can even lead to divorce. Dr. John M. Schmitz, a psychiatrist at Saint Cloud, Minnesota, states in his study published in the Sexual Health & Compulsivity Journal that a severe long-term consequence of shopping addiction is family disruption.

What are the risk factors for Shopping addiction?

The risk factors for shopping addiction are substance abuse, family stress, and loneliness.

1. Substance abuse

A major risk factor for shopping addiction is substance abuse. Compulsive buying is significantly associated with substance abuse, according to a study by Chenshu Zhang et al. published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases in 2016. People using substances before shopping are prone to overspending. 

2. Family stress

Family stress and problems is a risk factor for shopping addiction. Family stress causes loneliness and anxiety, which can mediate compulsive buying habits. 

Individuals with family issues develop materialism, which is a causative factor of shopping addiction, states Helga Dittmar, Professor of Social and Applied Psychology, University of Sussex, in her study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. 

3. Loneliness

Another risk factor for shopping addiction is loneliness. Individuals feeling alone look for options to escape their painful realities. In 2022, Kamila Rachubińska et al. published a study in the Journal of Clinical Medicine. They surveyed 556 Polish women to determine the degree of loneliness associated with shopping addiction. The results showed that with an increase in loneliness, the degree of shopping addiction also increased.  

How Is Shopping Addiction Treated?

Shopping addiction is treated by medications, self-help books, self-help groups, financial counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and psychotherapy. 

1. Medications

Antidepressants, opioid antagonists, and mood stabilizers are the medications used for treating shopping addiction. 

Although there is no gold standard pharmacological treatment for shopping addiction, fluvoxamine is the most commonly used medication. According to a study by Célia Soares et al. published in CNS Drugs Journal in 2016, 300 mg/day, fluvoxamine significantly reduced compulsive buying during active treatment. 

2. Self-help books

Self-help books are written to help the reader solve their problems.

Shopping addicts who cannot approach a therapist for treatment can use self-help books to get rid of their addiction. 

Astrid Müller et al. conducted a study on 56 compulsive buyers in 2011. The compulsive buyers were divided into three groups: Group 1 received self-help books, Group 2 received cognitive behavioral therapy, and Group 3 was left on the waitlist. The results showed that shopping addiction symptoms were reduced in both groups 1 and 2. 

3. Self-help groups

Self-help groups are informal groups of people who meet regularly and help each other with a common problem. 

Self-help groups for shopping addiction include Debtors Anonymous and Simplicity Circles. Debtors Anonymous is a voluntary self-help group for individuals with substantial debts. Shopping addicts with debt accumulation can reach out to this self-help group for financial advice. 

Simplicity circles teach compulsive buyers to live a simpler lifestyle and quit the habit of overspending. 

4. Financial counseling

Financial counseling is a service that helps people facing financial difficulties or debt problems. 

Shopping addicts often develop financial difficulties due to unnecessary purchases and extravagant spending. Financial counseling helps in managing financial difficulties and reduces compulsive buying, according to a special review by Donald Wayne Black published in World Psychiatry in 2007. 

5. Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy means to treat various mental health disorders through verbal communication. There is no standard psychotherapeutic measure to treat shopping addiction. However, recommendations for psychotherapeutic treatment are based on each individual’s condition. 

The common psychotherapy measures for shopping addiction are psychoanalysis, family therapy, behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy, as suggested by a systematic review published by Priscilla Lourenço Leite et al. in Psychiatry Research in 2014. 

6. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy used to challenge and overcome negative self-thoughts.  

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most successful treatment option for shopping addiction. CBT effectively reduces compulsive buying during active treatment, post-treatment, and 6 months post-treatment, as found in a German study conducted by Astrid Mueller et al. in 2008. 

A 2006 study conducted by James E. Mitchell et al. found that 11 American compulsive buyers saw a significant reduction in compulsive buying frequency and time spent buying after cognitive behavioral therapy sessions.

Are There Drug Options for Shopping Addiction?

Yes, there are drug options for shopping addiction, like antidepressants, opioid antagonists, and mood stabilizers. Antidepressants including fluvoxamine, citalopram, and escitalopram, opioid antagonists like naltrexone, and mood stabilizers like topiramate are effective in treating compulsive buying, as per the study by Célia Soares et al. published in CNS Drugs Journal in 2016.

Is shopping addiction related to Substance Abuse?

Yes, shopping addiction is related to substance abuse. Shopping addiction and substance abuse have common features like craving, withdrawal symptoms, and a compulsive urge to spend.

Evidence suggests that both shopping addiction and substance abuse have the same pathophysiology, i.e., by activating similar brain reward mechanisms.

21-46% of compulsive buyers have substance use disorders, as per a study by Donald Wayne Black, Susan Repertinger, Gary Gaffney, and Janelle Gabel, published in The American Journal of Psychiatry in 1998.

Is shopping addiction more common in men or women?

Shopping addiction is more common in women than men, although the difference is slight, according to a study by Lorrin Koran et al. published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The study concludes that in the US, 6% of women and 5.5% of men were affected by shopping addiction.

Can shopping addiction lead to relationship issues?

Yes, shopping addiction can lead to relationship issues because of obsession with shopping, materialism, and financial strain. Shopping addiction disrupts families in the long run, as stated by Max Glatt, a German-British Psychiatrist, in his study published in the British Journal of Addiction.

Does Shopping addiction cause depression?

Yes, shopping addiction causes depression in the long term. Depression occurs due to a constant state of anxiety, financial crisis, relationship difficulties, and feelings of unworthiness.

Is Shopping addiction a disease?

Yes, shopping addiction or compulsive buying disorder is a disease characterized by spending beyond what is necessary. Shopping addiction has been classified as an addictive disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Is Shopping addiction genetic?

Yes, shopping addiction is genetic. Shopping addiction runs in families with stress issues, depression, and substance use disorders, according to a study by Dr. Susan Lynn McElroy et al. published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Is Shopping addiction a choice?

No, shopping addiction is not a choice. Shopping addiction occurs due to mental health problems like low self-esteem and substance abuse, family issues, and loneliness.

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