Materialism and Shopping Addictions

Compulsive Spending / Shopping

Materialism and Shopping Addictions

Compulsive spending has many names: shopping addiction, oniomania, impulsive buying, shopaholism, and more. Although compulsive spending is not an official diagnosis, it resembles other addictions. People with oniomania often invest excessive time and resources to shop. They may not know what need they are trying to fill, but the compulsion to buy is still strong. 

A 2004 survey estimates 5.8% of adults in the United States have a shopping addiction. Some studies show higher rates among online shoppers, perhaps due to the internet’s convenience and anonymity. The condition can cause financial concerns, relationship conflict, and personal distress. Oniomania can be as difficult to stop as any other compulsion or addiction. 

However, compulsive spending is treatable. Therapy can help a person move past addiction and take back control over their life.

Signs You Are a Shopaholic

Where does one draw the line between a shopping hobby and an addiction? Researchers at Bergen University have developed a tool to answer this question. The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale adapts criteria from other addictions.

If someone shows 4 the 7 behaviors on the scale, they ly have a shopping addiction:

  • Obsessing about shopping all the time
  • Shopping to improve one's mood
  • Buying more items to feel the same satisfaction as before 
  • Buying so much one cannot meet daily responsibilities such as school
  • Buying so much it has affected one's well-being
  • Being unable to cut back on shopping, even if one wishes to do so
  • Feeling bad if one cannot shop

Who Is at Risk for Compulsive Spending?

Research suggests most people with shopping addiction are young and female. The condition usually starts in late adolescence or early adulthood. The prevalence seems to decrease with age. 

One 2016 study in Brazil analyzed how male and female compulsive spenders differ. Male participants were more ly to be non-heterosexual. They also had higher rates of co-occuring diagnoses such as intermittent explosive behavior.  

Personality may also impact compulsive spending. According to a 2015 study, extroversion and neuroticism are linked to shopping addiction. The study’s authors believe extroverts may use shopping to enhance social status. Meanwhile, neurotic individuals might shop to reduce negative emotions. People who are conscientious or agreeable are less ly to develop shopping addiction.

What Causes Shopping Addiction?

Many cultures today condone and even encourage materialism. Shopping for immediate personal gratification has been glorified as “retail therapy.” Overspending is easy to do in a world that provides broad access to credit. Although compulsive spending may have its roots in these cultural influences, the behavior is typically linked to more complex issues.

Some people believe buying the right object is the key to attaining happiness. This object could be a car, an item of clothing, or even virtual goods. Some people feel compelled to keep spending, even when they experience negative consequences

People’s goals can vary as much as their purchases. According to Shopaholics Anonymous, people with a shopping addiction may fall into one or more of these categories:

  • Compulsive shoppers: These people often use shopping an emotion-regulation strategy. They may shop to reduce negative feelings or to enhance and prolong positive ones. Compulsive shoppers might feel euphoria during the search for and purchase of an item. Yet they often feel guilt afterwards, which leads to anxiety, which leads to more shopping.
  • Collector shoppers: People in this category often wish to complete a set of objects, such as trading cards or golf clubs. They may wish to have variations of an object, such as different colors of the same purse.
  • Image shoppers: These individuals often buy expensive items. They may use purchases to boost their self-esteem and social status.
  • Codependent shoppers: These people shop to gain greater social acceptance. They may believe the right item will earn approval and affection from others. 
  • Bargain shoppers: These people often buy items they don’t need. Their goal is to get a good deal.
  • Trophy shoppers: These individuals resemble bargain shoppers because they enjoy “hunting” for the right object. However, they are focused on getting the perfect item rather than a good deal. 

Compulsive shopping has been linked to many other psychological conditions. Certain diagnoses may prompt compulsive spending. Shopping addiction may in turn affect one’s mental health. It can be difficult to pinpoint where one issue begins and the other ends.

People with shopping addiction often prioritize short-term gratification over long-term consequences. Because of this tendency, some researchers classify shopping addiction as an impulse control problem.

Other experts claim shopping addiction is compulsive behavior. Compulsive hoarding is closely linked to compulsive spending in several ways. Both conditions typically involve:

  • An overwhelming desire to own certain items, even when those objects aren’t needed. 
  • A fear of losing (or missing the chance to buy) said item.
  • Unusual meaning and value placed on inanimate objects.

Lastly, a 2014 study showed shopping addiction is highly comorbid with depression. Other research suggests shopping addiction helps individuals boost their serotonin and dopamine levels.  In these cases, the impulse to buy may stem from neurological and emotional needs. Buying may provide temporary relief, but most people feel remorse after the sale.

Therapy can treat compulsive spending and any related conditions. If you or a loved one struggles with a shopping addiction, you can find a therapist here.


  1. Addicted to shopping? (2017, October 11). University of Bergen News. Retrieved from
  2. Andreassen, C. S., Griffiths, M. D., Pallesen, S., Bilder, R. M., Torsheime, T., & Aboujaoude, E. (2015, September 17). The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale: Reliability and validity of a brief screening test. Frontiers in Psychology. Retrieved from  
  3. Black, Donald. (2007, February). A review of compulsive buying disorder. World Psychiatry, 6(1). Retrieved from
  4. Filomensky, T.Z., de Mattos, C. N., Kim, H. S., Requiao, M. G., Marasaldi, R. F., Hodgins, D. C., & Tavares, H. (2016, December 1). Gender differences in compulsive buying disorder: Assessment of demographic and psychiatric co-morbidities. PLoS ONE, 11(12). Retrieved from
  5. Koran, L. M., Faber, R. J., Aboujaoude, E., Large, M. D., & Serpe, R. T. (2006). Estimated prevalence of compulsive buying behavior in the United States. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 163(10), 1806-12. Retrieved from
  6. Kyrios, M., Frost, R. O., & Steketee, G. (2004). Cognitions in compulsive buying and acquisition. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 28(2), 241-258. doi:10.1023/B:COTR.0000021543.62799.32
  7. What is compulsive shopping? (n.d.) The Shulman Center. Retrieved from

Last Update:11-21-2019


Shopaholic? 3 Ways to Curb Your Shopping Addiction

Materialism and Shopping Addictions

Woman holding shopping bags |

A closet stuffed with new clothes, many with the tags still on. Shopping bags loaded with items you’ve bought but never used. A wallet full of credit cards for every store under the sun. Secret trips to the mall and a growing mountain of debt. If any of the above sounds familiar, you might be a shopaholic.

Roughly 6% of adults in the United States suffer from compulsive buying disorder, better known as a shopping addiction. The stereotypical shopping addict looks the Isla Fisher character in Confessions of a Shopaholic – a flighty fashion maven who’s mortgaging her future to buy the latest designer clothes.

While it’s true that the vast majority of shopping addicts are women, not every compulsive shopper is buying designer dresses and shoes.

They might be loading up their carts with toys for their kids, home décor items, kitchen gadgets, and books – whatever it takes to feel the rush they get from buying something new.

What’s behind the urge to splurge? Plain old materialism drives some shopping addicts, but others spend compulsively because they felt deprived in childhood, enjoy the thrill of shopping, are seeking approval, or have a problem with impulse control. Many are extroverts and score high on measure of neuroticism, research has found.

“[S]hopping addiction is related to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, and shopping may function as an escape mechanism for, or coping with, unpleasant feelings — although shopping addiction may also lead to such symptoms,” said Cecilie Schou Andreassen, a psychologist who created a scale to measure shopping addiction.

A woman shopping for shoes | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

For someone who isn’t a shopping addict, the cure seems obvious: Just stop shopping. But breaking a crippling shopping habit is rarely that simple.

“A shopping addiction is not a disease of intellect; it’s a disease of emotion,” financial planner Robert Pagliarini explained in an article for CBS Moneywatch.

“Unfortunately, most family members, along with mental health and financial ‘experts’; make things worse by focusing on the two areas that usually lead to even more shopping: shame and logic.

What’s wrong with you?! Don’t you know better? How can you be so self-centered and selfish? Trying to use logic — if you spend too much, you won’t have money to make the car payment — tends to be just as ineffective.”

Shopping addicts can try cutting up their credit cards or freezing them in a block of ice, but that move, while a helpful start, probably isn’t going to get to the heart of the problem. If you suspect you might be a shopaholic, these steps might help you kick the habit for good.

1. Avoid temptation

Woman making a purchase with her phone |

Most people can’t quit shopping cold turkey – you still need to buy groceries and toilet paper, after all.

But if you’re struggling with a shopping addiction, you do want to avoid places where you’re ly to overspend. For some, that means taking a longer route home from work to avoid the mall.

For others, it might mean unsubscribing from deal-of-the-day emails and removing shopping apps from your phone.

“Alcoholics don’t hang out in bars,” Lauren Bowling, a recovering shopping addict, wrote on The Financial Diet.

“Those with shopping problems shouldn’t hang out in stores or malls, ‘just to kill time,’ or ‘pass an afternoon.

’ I may indulge in a little ‘mindless’ shopping every now and again, mostly on vacation, but I rarely go to any store without having thought about what I need to buy first. I go in, I get out, and get on with my life.”

2. Cultivate other hobbies

Couple on a hike |

Shopping addicts may indulge in “retail therapy” to fill a void in their lives.

Others have let their spending addiction get so control they no longer have time to do the things they once loved, spending time with family or engaging in other hobbies.

Cultivating alternative pastimes or consciously making more room in life for things you used to enjoy means you have another outlet to focus on when you’re tempted to hit the stores.

“While I used to focus a highly disproportionate amount of energy on shopping and clothes, I have now cultivated some other interests, including my growing love for photography and cooking. Instead of running out to the mall to help manage stress, I’m now more ly to grab my camera and go for a walk by the water near where I live,” Debbie Roes wrote on her blog, Recovering Shopaholic.

3. Get help

Woman talking to a therapist | shironosov/

Shame and guilt often accompany a shopping addiction. Support groups Debtors Anonymous provide a safe space for you to talk about your struggles with money and shopping.

April Benson, an expert in compulsive buying disorder who runs the Stopping Overshopping website, has a virtual 12-week group therapy program for shopping addicts, along with other resources, a text message program that sends supportive messages to overspenders.

Some shopping addicts benefit from one-on-one therapy, especially if their compulsive buying is linked to other mental health issues.

“In order to find a permanent fix, you need to uncover the reason behind your spending,” James Roberts, a marketing professor at Baylor University and author of Too Much of a Good Thing, told Time.

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