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Shopping Addiction Warning Signs

Understanding the warning signs of shopping addiction can help shed light on an often trivialized issue. Shopping addiction may seem innocuous compared to the dangers of substance abuse, but the financial risk should not be overlooked. Addicts can easily put themselves deep into debt and risk their very survival to continue compulsively shopping. With the right treatment and support, addicts can stop the vicious cycle of compulsive buying and improve their overall well-being.

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What Are the Warning Signs of Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction is a behavioral addiction where the addict cannot stop making purchases despite the negative financial and emotional consequences. Also called compulsive buying disorder or oniomania, shopping addiction has a lifetime prevalence of 5.8% in the US general population.

Although compulsive shopping has no immediate health risks, the financial, emotional, and psychological toll can be devastating. Many shopping addicts will put themselves into financial ruin and rack up credit card debt they cannot pay off.

Shopping addicts often make their purchases in secret. Therefore, being able to identify the warning signs of shopping addiction is essential to spotting that a problem is present.

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The Top 8 Shopping Addiction Warning Signs

1. Uncontrollable, Obsessive Thoughts About Shopping

Addiction or not, most people look forward to buying new things for themself and may even think a lot about their next purchase. However, compulsive shoppers take this to an extreme by obsessively thinking and talking about their next shopping spree almost nonstop.

Many shopping addicts struggle to focus on work, school, or spending time with loved ones due to their uncontrollable thoughts about shopping. Their whole life revolves around their next shopping trip and what they will purchase.

2. Feeling a Rush or High From Shopping

Shopping addicts often describe feeling “high” or a rush of excitement while overshopping. Many addicts feel this way because of the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain’s reward center.

Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter that causes feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. When dopamine release is triggered repeatedly by compulsive spending, the brain may become dependent upon it to function normally.

Thus, shopping addicts can find themselves in a brutal cycle of craving shopping sprees and feeling powerless to stop.

3. Feeling Anxious on Days Spent Not Shopping

Once the brain becomes dependent on the flow of dopamine, addicts may experience withdrawal symptoms when not shopping. Quite a few withdrawal symptoms are often seen in shopping addicts, but anxiety is one of the most common.

Addicts report feeling out of sorts or unwell on days they don’t shop. Such unsettling feelings are typically a consequence of the brain’s dependence on dopamine. However, some addicts also feel anxious they will miss special discounts or specific items they prefer compulsively buying.

4. Hiding and Lying About Purchases

Shopaholics often face financial problems. Whether they spend money intended for essentials or take out more credit cards than they can handle, financial conflict with others is very common.

Such conflict leads addicts to lie about how much they spent and hide evidence of their purchases.

Some addicts may engage in online shopping to have their purchases delivered to a different location or PO Box. Others may only buy with cash to hide evidence of shopping sprees from bank statements.

5. Shopping to Cope With Stress or Negative Emotions

Retail therapy is a term that has found its way into our vocabulary and even pop culture. While buying something nice for yourself after a bad day isn’t inherently bad, there is a risk in associating shopping with mental health treatment.

Many shopping addicts begin shopping to cope with stress or mental health issues. Sometimes, it’s a way to feel “in control” when they feel out of control in other areas of life. For others, it’s a method of self-soothing rather than facing difficult emotions.

Whatever the reason, using shopping as a form of therapy can be dangerous for an addict’s mental well-being because it allows them to normalize or trivialize a serious problem.

6. Unable to Stop Shopping Despite Consequences

As the money disappears and debt piles on, shopping addicts may realize the harm they’re doing and try to stop. However, stopping compulsive behaviors isn’t so simple.

Impulse control problems are common for shopping addicts, so attempts to quit shopping cold turkey often fail.

Many shopping addicts experience housing insecurity and cannot afford basic needs due to their unhealthy shopping behaviors.

While it seems obvious to non-addicts, compulsive buyers struggle to prioritize their money on the right things, even when it threatens the basic things they need to live.

7. Feeling Intense Guilt or Shame About Shopping

Most of us have experienced buyer’s remorse before, but the guilt shopping addicts experience is even more extreme.

Addicts often feel intensely negative feelings about their shopping habits. Over time, these feelings of guilt and shame can affect their self-esteem and lead to social isolation and depression.

Unfortunately, the shame addicts feel can be short-lived, especially as they are quite adept at rationalizing their purchases. The guilt is often never enough to stop them from returning to the same reckless spending habits.

8. Buying Things You Don’t Need or Didn’t Plan to Buy

Some shopping addicts focus on buying one specific type of item they like to collect.

However, some addicts are less focused on the items themselves and more on the act of buying something. These addicts often find their homes filled with unused items, many still with tags or in their packaging.

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Overspending VS Shopping Addiction

Overspending is a common problem, especially with the rise of online shopping and advertisements through social media. It’s easier now than ever to make irresponsible purchases from your phone or computer from home.

However, overspending is not the same as shopping addiction. People who are reckless with their money may not experience the compulsion or crave to buy things the way an addict does.

A shopping addiction easily consumes the thoughts and actions of the addict, causing them to spend despite the negative consequences.

What Are the Risk Factors for Shopping Addiction?

Anyone can develop an addiction to shopping, but some individuals have a higher risk of doing so than others.

Having one of these risk factors does not guarantee shopping addiction, but it simply means watching for signs of addiction in yourself or a loved one may be a good idea.

Common risk factors for developing shopping addiction include:

  • History of addiction in at least one family member
  • Issues with impulse control
  • Past substance abuse
  • Certain mental illnesses like:
    • Hoarding disorder
    • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
    • Personality disorders
    • Eating disorders
    • Substance use disorders
    • Anxiety disorders
    • Mood disorders

Shopping Addiction Assessment and Diagnosis

A mental healthcare professional should diagnose shopping addiction.

Your healthcare provider or addiction specialist will typically begin assessing your current symptoms and may use a questionnaire like the Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale (BSAS).

Once your provider has determined if you or a loved one have a shopping addiction, they will walk you through recommended treatment options.

The most common treatment for shopping addiction is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), although some shopping addicts may respond better to other forms of therapy.

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Getting Treatment for Shopping Addiction

If you suspect you or a loved one has a shopping addiction, it’s time to get professional help. You can begin by speaking with your doctor about your symptoms or joining a support group like Debtors Anonymous, Shopping Addiction Support Group, or Shopaholics Anonymous.

If you don’t know where to start, check out SAMHSA’s online treatment locator or 1-877-726-4727 (HELP) to see what addiction treatment options are in your area.

If you’re ready to take action now, check out our options for treatment and therapy.

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Shopping Addiction Warning Signs FAQs

What are the characteristics of shopping addiction?

Common signs of shopping addiction include:

  • Compulsively buying items with credit cards rather than with cash
  • Feeling guilty, embarrassed, or ashamed after a spending spree
  • Thinking obsessively about money and shopping
  • Shopping or spending money as a result of stress or negative emotions
  • Feeling a rush or euphoria when spending
  • Lying about or hiding how much money you spent
  • Arguing with others about your shopping habits

What is the root cause of shopping addiction?

Many factors can cause shopping addiction. The most common causes are genetics, changes in brain chemistry, and co-occurring mental illnesses.

If you have a history of addiction or substance abuse, you may be at higher risk of developing a shopping addiction.

Why is shopping addictive?

Buying something new often gives most people a rush of excitement or pleasure. While this reaction isn’t automatically bad, some people may be more affected by it than others. Individuals with risk factors for addiction may crave the “high” of shopping and depend on it.

Shopping addiction is worsened by how prevalent online shopping has become, especially with ads on social media. Staying away from the mall is no longer enough when ads and online stores are impossible to avoid.

What is the difference between an “impulse buy” and a compulsive purchase?

Impulse buys are unplanned purchases often due to an external trigger, like seeing a long-sought-after item in a shop.

Compulsive purchases, on the other hand, are inwardly motivated by unhealthy, compulsive behavior and are often used to cope with negative emotions or anxiety.

What do I do if I have warning signs of shopping addiction?

If you have the warning signs of shopping addiction, the best action is to speak with your doctor or therapist or seek an addiction counselor, therapist, or similar specialist.

A healthcare professional can assess you for shopping addiction and help determine what treatment option best fits your unique needs.

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 AddictionHelp.com 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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  5. Patterson, E. (2021, November 10). Retail Therapy: What Is Shopping Addiction and Is It a Disorder? GoodRx. https://www.goodrx.com/well-being/behavioral-addiction/what-is-retail-therapyshopping-addiction
  6. Zarate, D., Fullwood, L., Prokofieva, M., Griffiths, M. D., & Stavropoulos, V. (2022, June 20). Problematic Shopping Behavior: An Item Response Theory Examination of the Seven-Item Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale. National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/

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