Can’t Stop Shopping?


Women are notorious for their love of shopping but when the habit becomes uncontrollable, secretive and is causing more harm than good, it can ruin a person’s life. HEALTH examines the toxic consequences of shopping addiction…

Can-t Stop Shopping

What It Means

While society often promotes the culture of ‘shop till you drop’ with the easy accessibility of online shopping, mall sales and countless advertisements, shopping can actually turn into a dangerous addiction. According to Occupational Therapist Priya Sridharan, the term “retail therapy” has been used widely in the media to describe people’s spending habits similar to a medicine to help with serious ailments such as depression and anxiety. “However, there’s a difference between ‘retail therapy’ and an addiction to shopping or retail addiction,” she says with the latter being a serious problem which has been identified as ‘oniomania’ or compulsive shopping disorder.

And as is the case with most addictions, the shopping triggers a sense of euphoria and happiness within the individual, so the person gets into a cycle of lows and highs, where the lows will cause stress and anxiety and the highs will create a sense of wellbeing falsely built around the act of buying. After the purchase, the person may feel guilt, which leads to another spending spree to battle the perceived negative emotions.

Red Flags

Some of the signs of shopping addiction include overspending. If you find that you constantly overspend and take money from your budgeted expenses to cover a shopping excursion, than you may be a victim of shopping addiction. Also if you compulsively purchase items despite a need to buy something or if you notice that you buy eight pairs of shoes at a time instead of just one, this could indicate a problem. Also if you notice that you are shopping chronically and you notice that you don’t just overspend once in a while, you may have a chronic shopping addiction problem. Another red flag is lying; if you lie about your shopping in an effort to cover up what is really going on, there could be a problem. And finally, if you feel guilty after a shopping spree, this again, can indicate that you could have a problem

Root Causes

Quite often, adults who have learned to attach emotional wellbeing to material objects can be led into believing that shopping is the way to make themselves feel better, points out Sridharan. “With some individuals, they may have grown up always wanting affection, time and attention from their primary caregivers, but have instead been given gifts and toys,” she explains therefore these individuals tend to link happiness and security to objects. “So every time they acquire something new, they feel loved, wanted and whole,” she says. And those individuals who have issues regarding their belief in themselves and lack self-esteem can try to compensate by using acquisition of objects as a proof of how much they are worth. These individuals often associate their identity with what and how much they own.

The Perils of Shopping

Shopping addiction, reinforces Sridharan, is a serious problem and can cause people a number of difficulties. “People who associate wellbeing to things will constantly need to acquire new objects which can obviously then place a tremendous strain on financial resources,” she says so the lower a person feels, often the larger the acquisition. “And as is the case with any addiction, the individual can begin to isolate themselves and withdraw from social contact, depending more on the process of buying and the objects they buy for their happiness,” she says, and these people are often unable to function normally in their daily lives and look for the “high” moments wherever they can. “In extreme cases, individuals who have such a problem can cause damage to their relationships, often putting their need for shopping before their partners, children, and family,” she says. The strain on their finances, she adds, can lead to excessive borrowing and even stealing to satisfy the spending habit.

Normal versus Abnormal

Researchers estimate that up to 6 percent of Americans are so-called shopaholics. There are many social and cultural factors that tend to increase the addictive potential of shopping and spending. The easy availability of credit and the material focus of society in general, encourage people to accumulate possessions now and worry about financial responsibility later. Purchasing has also been made easier with the availability of on-line shopping and TV shopping networks devoted to selling goods 24 hours a day. Unfortunately, Sridharan explains that this behaviour isn’t yet thought of as a serious problem. “Compulsive shopping disorder can go unchecked for years, especially with those individuals who don’t live on a budget,” she says and has not been given the same attention as other addictions and negative behaviours. Therefore it is not very common to find a person seeking help for this but rather, Sridharan explains, “More common are individuals who seek professional help for the accompanying symptoms of depression, anxiety, self-esteem issues and need for affirmation from material gain.”


Not surprisingly, statistics show that woman tend to report feeling depressed more than men, and may be more amenable to seeking therapeutic help via shopping. Women with this compulsive disorder often have racks of clothes and possessions with the price tags still attached which have never been used. They will go to a shopping mall with the intention of buying one or two items and come home with bags and bags of purchases. In some cases, shopaholics have an emotional “black out” and do not remember even buying the articles. If their family or friends begin to complain about their purchases, they will often hide the things they buy. They are often in denial about the problem. Because they cannot pay their bills, they often drown in debt.

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