shopping addiction

A shopping addiction is the compulsion to spend money, regardless of need or financial means. This person may be addicted to a certain product, such as clothes or jewelry, but they may also buy anything from food and beauty products to stocks and real estate.

Some people love to shop, while others hate to shop. Personally, I don’t like shopping. I don’t like the long lines in retail shops, the annoying people that bring their screaming kids with them, or the people that stink up the whole store by either putting too much perfume or cologne on.

For most people, shopping is something you do to buy groceries and other products that you either need or want. For others, shopping is a fun thing to do, and in some extreme cases, shopping can be a real and destructive addiction that can turn into a severe financial problem, especially among those with families.

“Compulsive shopping and spending are defined as inappropriate, excessive, and out of control. Like other addictions, it basically has to do with impulsiveness and lack of control over one’s impulses. In America, shopping is embedded in our culture; so often, the impulsiveness comes out as excessive shopping.”
Donald Black, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.


Some people will show addictive behavior while shopping. They can get a shopping high, which will make them feel good about doing it, even though they are spending too much money. How many different signs are there to tell if you are a shopaholic? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Going over budget

“Often times, a person will spend over their budget and get into deep financial trouble, spending well above their income. The normal person will say, ‘Oops, I can’t afford to buy this or that.’ But not someone who has an addiction,” explains Ruth Engs, EdD, a professor of applied heath science at Indiana University. “They don’t understand what a budget is, and they will try to hide their purchases from other people to avoid criticism.”

  • Compulsive

When people with a shopping addiction go shopping, then they will most likely compulsively buy. They might not plan on buying more than they need, but when they get into the store, they won’t be able to stop themselves from grabbing more than they need.

  • It’s chronic

An addiction doesn’t stop over night. It will become chronic, which means that it will persist over a long period of time. How long is a long period of time? Several weeks or more.

  • They try to hide it

“Shopaholics will hide their purchases because they don’t want their significant other to know they bought it, because they’ll be criticized. They may have secret credit card accounts, too. This problem affects mostly women, as alcoholism affects mostly men, husbands will all of sudden be told their wife is $20,000 to $30,000 in debt and they are responsible, and many times, this comes out in divorce,” says Engs.

  • They try to return their purchases

“Some people will take their purchases back because they feel guilty. That guilt can trigger another shopping spree, so it’s a vicious circle,” says Engs. “And in these people, debt may not be an issue, because they’re consistently returning clothes out of guilt, but a problem still exists.”

  • Loss of control

The main sign of an addiction is the loss of control. If they are no longer in control of their shopping, then they’ve lost all control. Thus, shopping becomes an addiction, and the shopaholic needs to seek professional help in order to stop their addiction.

  • Other signs of an addiction include:
  1. Shopping or spending money as a result of feeling angry, depressed, anxious, or lonely
  2. Having arguments with others about one’s shopping habits
  3. Suffering from credit card withdrawal
  4. Buying items on credit, rather than with cash in hand
  5. Describing a rush or a feeling of euphoria while spending money
  6. Feeling guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed after a spending spree
  7. Lying to themselves or to others about how much money was spent

Seeking Help

If someone has four or more of any of these behaviors, then they might have a shopping addiction, and therefore, should seek help. For the friend or family member who is concerned, an intervention is a good start. The next step would be to contact a therapist, who is covered through your (the addict) insurance, that specializes in addictions. They should also seek credit counseling. The average shopping addiction can accrue up to $70,000 in debt! It would be a good idea to have your free credit score checked as well.

The start to getting help:

  • Admit that you are a compulsive spender
  • Get rid of checkbooks and credit cards
  • Don’t go shopping by yourself
  • Find a way to get your mind off shopping

“While I recommend starting with a psychiatric evaluation, you can also find out what resources are in your area, and where you, a relative, or friend can start to get help,” says Engs. For more help on shopping addictions, please feel free to visit Ruth Engs’ website.

*If you are concerned that you may suffer from a shopping addiction, please contact your doctor to get an expert’s opinion!

Let’s Hear From You!

Do either you or someone that you know have a shopping addiction? What are your symptoms? How did were you diagnosed? How did it start, and how long did the addiction last? Do you suffer from other addictions? What advice would you give to people that suffer from a shopping addiction?

I remember an acquaintance of mine having a shopping addiction while we were in college. She was a full time student, had several jobs on campus, and volunteered to help out around campus, so she was very busy. If she wasn’t in class or working on campus, she was “out and about.” We thought that “out and about” meant she was either hanging out with friends or running errands.

It surprised us that whenever she came back from “out and about,” she always complained about not having enough spending money. Some of us only had a part time job working at the security desk or in the game room, but we thought that we had enough spending money, so one of us asked her why she didn’t have enough spending money. She told us that she would go out on huge shopping sprees, and it didn’t matter if she needed it or not. She felt that she just had to have it. She also said that she had been shopping since she started working on campus, which was at least one semester.

We eventually convinced her, after a heated argument, to seek help because it sounded like an addiction to us. Fortunately, there were (and still are) health care providers (nurses and therapists) on campus, so she went down to see a therapist about her possible addiction. I later found out that she had a shopping addiction. Whether she was successful at ending her addiction is not known. However, I can imagine that with the right help and a strong determination, a person can end any addiction.