Addiction to shopping: symptoms, causes and treatments

Addiction to shopping is a compulsion to spend money, regardless of need or financial means. The shopping addict is someone who shops compulsively and may feel that he has no control over his behavior.

While many people enjoy shopping as a treatment or recreational activity, compulsive shopping is a mental health disorder and can cause serious consequences.

Addiction to shopping

The shopping addiction has received several names so far, such as “compulsive shopping”, “shopping-mania” or “shopaholic”. The society in which we live is consumerist. Therefore, it is a topic of growing interest, not only because of its economic impact on the person who suffers it, but also because of the disorders that are hidden behind this addiction.

Addiction to shopping

Some studies on this addiction show that a third of EU citizens are addicted to consumption and have serious problems of self-control when making purchases.

In addition, 3% have turned that addiction into pathology. These figures are aggravated among the young population, since 46% are addicted and 8% have levels that touch the sickly.

This addiction is much more common among women aged 20-40 years. Usually they are workers and independent women who show dissatisfaction in relation to their sentimental life.

At least once a week, it is common for them to visit different stores and malls during their free time, which means that their closets are packed with new clothes or have used only once.

However, it is a disorder that is not yet included in the manuals of psychopathology, perhaps because – as various social psychologists say – people are not simply consumerists but excessive consumerists.

To better understand this disease, we will explain the main causes, symptoms and treatment components that are usually carried out in these cases:

Main causes of shopping addiction

The causes by which people can develop addiction to shopping are very varied, including both internal psychological states – boredom or discontent – as external reasons – advertising and marketing.

Main causes of shopping addiction

  • Rivalry and comparison with the people around us. Our needs depend on what the people around us have. In this way, if our friends buy too much or travel frequently, we will have the feeling that we need to behave in the same way.
  • Messages from the media. It is no secret that we are all subjected to the power of marketing and advertising, and these exercise great power over our behavior – including consumer behavior.
  • Ease of payment. At present, it is enough to bring a credit card and pay for the product that we want to take home. At other times, it is very easy to get a loan to finance our purchases. All this facilitates that we buy impulsively and without reflecting too much.
  • Lack of spending control. A person who does not balance between his income and his expenses in a methodical way, will be more likely to waste money on unnecessary products .
  • The monotony or lack of fun in our daily lives can become a precipitating factor of shopping addiction.
  • Negative emotions. Experiencing negative emotions, such as sadness or anxiety, can lead people who are addicted to shopping to experience an Excessive purchase episode , since, as we will see throughout this article, a moment of well-being is produced at the moment when new objects are being acquired.

Main Symptoms of Addiction to Buy

The symptoms manifested by those addicted to shopping are numerous and varied, being, in some cases, similar to the symptoms presented in other addictions.

Perhaps the most prominent symptom is the excessive tension or excitement that is experienced just before making the purchase.

Also Read: The 6 Types of Drugs and their Effects

As a result of the buying action, the person feels satisfaction, their anxiety levels are reduced, and even an excessive euphoria.

However, such excitement often disappears quickly – even before arriving home with the new acquisitions -, so the pleasure experienced is very ephemeral.

This constant desire to buy more and more objects, clothes or utensils, persists even when it puts at risk his work or the familiar economy.

After excessive purchases, which usually include useless or repetitive objects, people experience remorse, guilt, depression and anxiety.

Other psychological consequences caused by compulsive buying are anguish, shame or low self-esteem. All of these symptoms, which cause excessive stress, can cause illnesses like ulcer, hypertension , deep depressions and frequent headaches .

It is also common that there are family fights due to the waste that has been carried out by the person who is addicted to shopping – for that reason, they usually hide it from family and couple.

However, the only way a person with a shopping addiction knows to stop feeling these negative feelings is to buy back – just as an alcoholic will most likely resort to alcohol when experiencing anxiety and sadness.

The traits that occur in addicts to purchases can be found in other disorders of impulse control, as in kleptomania.

In fact, the only difference found with kleptomania is that shopkeepers pay for their purchases, so they get  caught up in debts that they cannot cope with – while kleptomaniacs often have major problems with justice, due to their criminal behavior  .

However, in very advanced stages of shopping addiction, when the person cannot get any means to pay for the products that he wants to purchase, he can resort to theft – from people around him or in the establishments themselves.

Another characteristic symptom of this disease is the development of tolerance. As with alcohol consumption in alcoholics, shopping addicts are progressively increasing expenses to experience the same effect.


With regard to the consciousness of disease, we find that these people are aware of the problem they present, although sometimes they can deceive themselves.

When they stop to think about it, they know their closets are full. However, once in the store, they tell themselves that they are acquiring very useful items and garments that they really need.

As you can imagine, all these symptoms that are addicted to shopping cause intense discomfort in their daily lives, as well as the people around them.

When it is an addiction, the person is involved in a vicious circle from which he does not know how to escape, so he usually needs the help of a professional to implant an effective treatment.

Treating Addiction to Shopping

What is advisable is that this type of therapy is carried out by a professional specialized in addictions, who knows how to apply the most appropriate treatment  to each person, depending on the stage in which the disease is and their personal characteristics .

There are different scales and tests that have been specifically created to diagnose this addiction, such as:

  • Compulsive purchase scale of Valence, d’Astous and Fortier.
  • Edwards Compulsive Shopping Scale.
  • Test of addiction to shopping (Echeburúa, Corral and Amor).

With regard to the fundamental aspects to be dealt with in this disorder, we can highlight the following:

  1. Stimulus control

This includes restrictions on the person who is addicted to shopping, to reduce the likelihood of falling into their addictive habit.

Within this section, there are the following modifications that must be carried out:

  • Reduce your daily budget. The person must leave the house with a reduced daily budget and in cash that will be adapted to the anticipated expenses (for the food, means of transport, etc.).
  • Avoid shopping areas and shopping centers. The addict to the purchases must modify his route until the work or the center of studies with the objective of avoiding any stimulus that precipitate a new episode of compulsive purchase – like stores, commercial centers, etc. -.
  • Advise on stores and small businesses about their addiction. Sometimes people leave money “spun” in small shops, when they know the owner or shop clerk. To prevent the addict from using this option to satisfy their unrestrained desires, you must warn in advance not to sell anything – just as gambling addicts can ask the casinos not to allow entry to them – .
  1. Addressing your economic problems

For the therapy to have the desired effect and the person stops experiencing negative feelings – which can lead to unrestrained purchases again –  , it is important that you face your debts, reducing as much money as possible and returning items to stores – if the return ticket is  still valid and in case the objects have not been used.

It is necessary to take stock of all debts owned by the person, including the money they have borrowed or extracted from others.

This is a fundamental but very delicate aspect of treatment. The person must commit himself and others to break the vicious circle in which he has been involved.

Because of the difficulty it entails, the first few days or weeks can be arranged for the person to be accompanied by a friend or family member when leaving home in their spare time – especially if there are signs of significant anxiety or depression.

Once the debts are paid, sometimes it is decided to break the credit cards, since, as we said at the beginning of the article, they can be used  easily and immediately, so that the person can again lose control of their accounts and relapse into addiction.

During the following months, cash and small amounts will be used at all times, so that if the person has an imperative need to acquire an object, he cannot do so.

  1. Live exposure

Once treatment is advanced, it will be necessary for the person to learn to buy in a controlled and adaptive manner, since it is behavior that is not harmful when you have control over it.

In addition, the addict to the purchases has to be exposed to the anxiety that causes him to frequent stores and not to acquire any new clothes.

In order to carry out this exhibition, the person must be accompanied, in the first occasions, to the sites of high risk, like commercial centers.

One way of proceeding is to establish a gradual scale of exposure, in which a different task is performed each day. An example of an exposure scale might be as follows:

  • Pass in front of a shopping center.
  • Look at a shop window for 15 minutes.
  • Enter a store and see clothes for 10 minutes.
  • Enter a store and try on 2 clothes – without buying anything.

In this way, the person is acquiring greater self-control over his compulsive behavior.

  1. Cognitive treatment

Another important aspect that must be present in the therapy is the change of irrational beliefs of the person who suffers from shopping addiction, since they usually present ideas that are overvalued with respect to the possession of material objects.

To begin with, it is important for the person to be aware that behind their addiction are hiding different problems they are hiding or masking.

Sometimes it is a sentimental vacuum, dissatisfaction with your partner or with your work.

Therefore, you have to detect the affected areas of your life so you can solve them and increase your emotional well-being in a different way – instead of looking for happiness through shopping.

Another fundamental aspect to improve in these cases is self-esteem, which is generally very affected, since the person has been learning to value him and others in terms of material possessions, instead of appreciating the skills and qualities that are possessed.

To increase personal self-esteem, it may be suggested to start some new activity to be done in your free time -according to dance classes , languages,  sports , etc.-.

In this way, in addition to boosting their self-esteem, it prevents the person from being bored for long periods of time – which, we remember, is a precipitant factor in the episode of compulsive shopping.

Of course, other disorders secondary to this addiction, such as the aforementioned symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress, should also be treated.

The fundamental objective of therapy will be to restructure the life of the person so that he can manage his own internal states in an adaptive way, leaving aside the maladaptive habits used so far.

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