Am I Addicted to Shopping? How to Tell if Shopping Has Become an Addiction

Woman Shopping with Oversized Sunglasses and Silver Clutch Bag

When we think about addiction, it is often linked to dependency on substances such as alcohol, drugs, or nicotine. However, certain behaviors – including gambling, eating, sex, gaming, exercise, and yes … shopping – are also potentially addictive.

Behavioral addictions are typified by a “failure to resist an impulse or urge, leading to persistent engagement in the behavior (e.g., video games, shopping) despite recurring harms.” 1

Here we explore the signs and possible causes of shopping addiction alongside some of the potential coping strategies.  

What is shopping addiction?

For almost everyone, shopping is part of life. So, when exactly does shopping move from ‘retail therapy’ towards being a reason to consider seeking therapy? 

Shopping addiction is characterized by compulsive purchasing despite the negative consequences: “… repetitive, uncontrolled urges to buy items which are not needed. Buying sprees induce financial difficulties, reproaches, and conflicts with family.” 2

Immediately after making a purchase, shopping addicts feel a rush of euphoria triggered by the release of dopamine (the brain’s feel-good chemical). This natural ‘high’ drives a compulsion to shop more and can, over time, create a pattern of addictive behavior. 

Compulsive shoppers become trapped in a cyclical process in which they experience: “mounting tension which may only be relieved by buying. The tension temporarily assuaged by purchase is quickly replaced by guilt, sadness, and self-reproach.” 3

Red flags for a shopping addiction include the following statements:

  • I am preoccupied with thinking about shopping.
  • I frequently engage in shopping either online or in person.
  • I devote a significant amount of time and money to shopping.
  • I follow a ritualized pattern of planning and undertaking shopping trips.
  • I feel sad, anxious, or tense before shopping or if I’m prevented from shopping.
  • I experience a rush of happiness or relief when I shop.
  • I shop to boost my mood or to cope with stress.
  • I buy items I don’t need. 
  • I set a budget but regularly exceed it.
  • I have debts or financial problems. 
  • I feel unable to stop myself from shopping.
  • I feel regretful, angry, shameful, or guilty after shopping.
  • I hide purchases or tell lies about them.
  • I continue to shop even though it negatively impacts my life.
  • I become angry or defensive if others question my shopping behaviors.

What causes shopping addiction?

People out shopping with sale posters on mall windows

Clinical observation of shopping addiction can be traced back to the early 20th century. At this time, Emil Kraepelin, a German psychiatrist, defined the term: ‘oniomania’ from the Greek for ‘sale’ (onios) and ‘madness’ (mania). 4 

Today, the term compulsive buying disorder is commonly used, and in the USA, it’s estimated that around 6% of the population is addicted to shopping. 5

The cause of compulsive shopping is not yet fully understood, but research points to several different contributing factors, including:

  • Comorbidity

Evidence suggests that shopping addiction often occurs alongside other mental health conditions, such as a mood or anxiety disorder, substance-use disorder, eating disorder, or other impulse control issues. 

“One common view is that individuals with internal distress, such as depressive mood, anxiety, or low self-esteem, depend on their CB to relieve themselves temporarily from their stressful states.” 6

  • Consumerism 

We live in a consumeristic world, surrounded by advertising which suggests that if we buy X, Y, or Z, our lives will be happier, easier, or better! With frequent, targeted advertising now reaching further into all areas of our daily lives – societal pressure to shop continues to rise.

  • Escapism

Compulsive shoppers often describe their actions as a coping strategy. Shopping provides a temporary escape from negative situations or feelings such as anger, boredom, anxiety, and depression

  • Self-esteem

Some research suggests that compulsive buyers are more likely to ‘self-gift’ to boost their self-esteem. In these individuals, self-esteem levels were not particularly low – but they did appear to be more sensitive to the temporary ‘lift’ that shopping can provide.

“It can be suggested that compulsive buyers have not a lower “basic” level of self-esteem. Their level of self-esteem is, however, more sensitive to the effects of their purchases, and their purchases are more often decided in the hope of restoring their self-esteem.” 7

Why is shopping addiction controversial?

Among mental health professionals, behavioral addictions remain a subject of debate, and some experts remain unconvinced that a behavior can be formally defined as an addiction.

Currently, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR) only includes gambling disorder as a distinct behavioral addiction. 8 However, a large and growing number of professionals are campaigning for a much broader range of behavioral addictions, which includes shopping.

Experts have also still to agree on exactly where shopping addiction ‘fits.’ Some suggest it is an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), while others favor classification as an impulse control disorder, a mood disorder, or a behavioral addiction. Watch this space!

What are the risks of a shopping addiction?

unemployed man fired from work

The long-term impact of compulsive buying can be significant, both for the addicted individual and their family and friends. Possible negative consequences of this type of behavior include: 

  • Breakdown of family relationships 
  • Loss of friends and social isolation 
  • Depression or anxiety 
  • Financial problems
  • Issues at work 
  • Loss of interest in other aspects of life.

What can I do if I think I’m addicted to shopping?

If you think that you could be addicted to shopping, there are lots of helpful strategies to consider. Tackling any addiction is a process of understanding and regaining control of certain behaviors and finding alternative ways of coping with daily life. 

Strategies you can explore independently: 

  • Avoid shopping as part of daily life – if you are responsible for buying essential groceries and supplies, could someone else do this for you?
  • Seek positive distractions – rather than heading to the mall for leisure, fill your spare time with alternative hobbies or activities. 
  • Limit your spending capability – destroy any credit cards and limit access to funds (a vital step if you have debts or are facing financial difficulties). 
  • Avoid other shopaholics – don’t be tempted to join a trip with other avid shoppers.
  • Make shopping lists – when you do shop, write a list and ask a friend to help you stick to it.
  • Use the 24-hour rule – when you want to make a purchase, try delaying the impulse for 24 hours. Then, review your decision to purchase – do you still really need the item?
  • Switch off – control or limit any access to online shopping or TV shopping channels.
  • Try window shopping – research suggests that dopamine (the feel-good brain chemical) is triggered by seeking or anticipating a reward – rather than the reward itself. 9

Seeking professional help 


If you decide to seek professional support to overcome your shopping addiction, then this can begin with consulting your General Practitioner for advice on the range of support and services available. 

Many compulsive buyers do find that gaining the support of an experienced addiction counselor or therapist is very beneficial. Depending on your specific situation, the therapeutic approach will vary, but options for treating a shopping addiction include support groups, financial counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and medication.

How Tikvah Lake can help

At Tikvah Lake Recovery Center, you can relax in our 15,000-square-foot Florida mansion set by a stunning tranquil lake. In these peaceful and comfortable surroundings, our experienced team offers therapy for a wide range of addictions, drawing on evidence-based therapeutic techniques. 

Call us for an initial chat about how we could help you or someone you care about.


  1. Kim, H. S. and Hodges, D. C. 2018. Component Model of Addiction Treatment: A Pragmatic Transdiagnostic Treatment Model of Behavioral and Substance Addictions Frontiers of Psychiatry
  2. Lejoyeux, M. et al. 2011. Money Attitude, Self-esteem, and Compulsive Buying in a Population of Medical Students Frontiers in Psychology
  3. Lejoyeux, M. et al. 2011. Money Attitude, Self-esteem, and Compulsive Buying in a Population of Medical Students Frontiers in Psychology
  4. Murali, V. Ray, R. and Shaffiulha, M. 2012. Shopping addiction Advances in Psychiatric Treatment
  5. Lorrin, M. et al. 2006. Estimated Prevalence of Compulsive Buying Behaviour in the United States The American Journal of Psychiatry
  6. Zhang, C. et al. 2017. Compulsive buying and quality of life: An estimate of the monetary cost of compulsive buying among adults in early midlife Psychiatry Research
  7. Lejoyeux, M. et al. 2011. Money Attitude, Self-esteem, and Compulsive Buying in a Population of Medical Students Frontiers in Psychology
  8. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR)
  9. Berridge, K. C. and Robinson, T. E. 1998. What is the role of dopamine in reward: hedonic impact, reward learning, or incentive salience? Brain Research Reviews

About Adam Nesenoff

Adam Nesenoff has been working in recovery for over ten years.

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