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Shopping Addiction Causes

Shopping addiction is a serious issue that can affect an individual’s well-being. Causes can vary and may be influenced by the person’s background and mental health. Recognizing the causes and risk factors can help identify shopping addiction.

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Shopping Addiction Causes

Shopping addiction is often not taken seriously as a debilitating addiction. However, unchecked compulsive shopping can easily wreak havoc on an addict’s physical, emotional, psychological, and financial well-being.

The causes of shopping addiction can vary depending on the addict’s background and co-occurring mental health issues. However, being aware of the causes and risk factors can arm you with the knowledge you need to identify shopping addiction in yourself or a loved one.

What Causes Shopping Addiction?

The exact cause of shopping addiction isn’t known. However, the cause is likely different for each person. Shopping addiction or compulsive buying disorder still requires further study to understand this behavioral addiction fully.

That said, research has revealed a few key factors that may lead to developing a shopping addiction. Anyone can develop an addiction to compulsive shopping, but certain causes tend to appear in many cases of the disease.


Research has shown that certain genes passed down from your parents can increase your likelihood of addiction. Individuals with close family members who experience addiction tend to be at higher risk, especially if a parent or sibling has an addiction.

A history of addiction in the family doesn’t mean you are powerless to avoid the disease, however. Being aware of the risks can help you make better, more informed decisions and catch the warning signs of shopping addiction before they worsen.

Brain Chemistry

Shopping addiction, like other behavioral addictions, typically affects the brain’s reward center. The reward center is a region of the brain that produces feelings of reward or pleasure, usually by releasing dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin.

Shopping can cause a release of dopamine, causing a “high” or feelings of pleasure. Over time, addicted individuals may become dependent on the constant flood of dopamine each time they shop and experience withdrawals when not shopping.

Co-Occurring Mental Disorders

Shopping addiction tends to have a high rate of co-occurring mental health conditions. Often, compulsive spending is a common symptom of some mental illnesses, leading the two conditions to worsen each other.

Not all shopaholics will have co-occurring mental disorders, but it’s not uncommon for some shopping addicts to develop a mental illness during their addiction. Anxiety disorders are the most common, but there are a few other conditions commonly seen in shopping addiction.

Common co-occurring mental disorders often found with shopping addiction include:

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Risk Factors for Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction, also called oniomania, has a few common risk factors. Having one or more of these risk factors does not guarantee you will develop compulsive buying behavior, but knowing your potential risk can help you make informed decisions when spending money.

Common risk factors for compulsive shopping issues include:

  • Past substance abuse
  • History of addiction in your family
  • Issues with impulse control
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions (e.g., depression, anxiety, mood disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders, and impulse control disorders)

Identifying Shopping Addiction in Yourself or a Loved One

With online shopping making it easier than ever to hide addictive behavior, identifying shopping addiction symptoms is important to catching impulse buying issues before they become a severe and destructive problem.

Common warning signs of problem shopping habits or shopping addiction include:

  • Shopping as a coping mechanism for negative emotions, emotional distress, or to improve low self-esteem
  • Rationalizing compulsive shopping as “retail therapy”
  • Harming relationships due to overspending or overshopping
  • Losing control of your shopping behavior
  • Obsessively thinking about the next thing you plan to purchase
  • Being unable to stop their compulsive shopping
  • Experiencing a rush of euphoria after buying something
  • Feeling regret or guilt about things they have purchased
  • Financial problems or an inability to pay off debts
  • Shopping as a coping strategy to feel less guilty about a previous shopping spree
  • Lying about things you’ve bought or hiding your purchases
  • Opening new credit cards without paying off balances on existing cards
  • Purchasing things they don’t need

Find Treatment for Shopping Addiction

If you suspect you or someone you love has a shopping addiction, there are treatment options available that can help you break free from the cycle of compulsive shopping. Talk to your doctor or reach out to a mental health professional or addiction specialist to see if you have a shopping disorder.

If you’re unsure where to start, try using SAMHSA’s online program locator or call them at 1-877-726-4727 (HELP) to see what addiction treatment centers are nearby.

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FAQ's About the Causes of Shopping Addiction

What is the difference between shopping addiction and bad spending habits?

Compulsive shoppers often have bad spending habits, but that does not mean they have an addiction. Bad spending habits can indicate shopping addiction, but not always. Shopping addicts experience a compulsive, uncontrollable need to shop despite the negative feelings or consequences it causes.

Someone with bad spending habits may be at higher risk of developing a shopping disorder, but it does not guarantee they will form an addiction.

Who is most likely to have a shopping addiction?

Certain risk factors can elevate someone’s chance of developing a shopping addiction. Common risk factors of shopping addiction include:

  • Past substance abuse issues
  • History of addiction in your family
  • Co-occurring mental illnesses
  • Issues with impulse control

How is shopping addiction treated?

Shopping addiction is most often treated with therapy. The most popular type of therapy for shopping addiction is cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT, but some patients may work better with other types of therapy.

In some cases, medication like antidepressants and/or anti-anxiety medications may help treat some of the symptoms or if the addict has an unmedicated co-occurring mental illness.

Why am I suddenly shopping so much?

Many people turn to “retail therapy” to deal with negative emotions or stress. You may want to examine the cause of your sudden increase in shopping and speak with a trusted friend, family member, or doctor about your symptoms.

Occasional “splurges” or impulse buys do not always mean you have an addiction. However, it’s always a good idea to check in with yourself if you notice changes in your behavior or desire for certain activities.

How will a shopping addiction affect my life?

One of the biggest impacts is typically shopping addiction’s financial consequences. Many addicts also find that shopping addiction harms their relationships with others, especially if those people rely on them financially.

Addicts may struggle emotionally with the guilt and shame of their out-of-control spending. If left unchecked, shopping addiction can wreak havoc on every part of an addict’s life.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

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  4. Koran, L. M., Faber, R. J., Aboujaoude, E., Large, M. D., & Serpe, R. T. (2006, October). Estimated Prevalence of Compulsive Buying Behavior in the United States. The American Journal of Psychiatry.
  5. Murali, V., Ray, R., & Shaffiullha, M. (2018, January 2). Shopping Addiction: Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. Cambridge Core.
  6. Patterson, E. (2021, November 10). Retail Therapy: What Is Shopping Addiction and Is it a Disorder? GoodRx.

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