Shopping Addiction: When does Shopping Become an Issue?

Last Updated: January 14, 2021

Many people will probably sneer at the mere mention of Shopping Addiction. It may not be as taboo as substance addiction, but people who have a compulsive buying disorder also develop a deep-seated dependence on shopping.

Technically termed as Omniomania, compulsive shopping can lead to problematic outcomes. Consequences of a buying addiction include leaving a person and his loved ones in debt from shopping, relationship problems, and other issues. Introducing interventions on shopping addiction help can alleviate such issues from becoming aggravated.

This article will provide an overview of Omniomania, typical tell-tale signs to know if someone may be affected, and what types of support are available to address this behavior.

Offline And Online Shopping Addiction Overview

With the increasing demand for Internet-based shopping, there is a renewed interest in online shopping addiction. Some believe that the recent recognition of online gaming addiction as a disorder indicates that it’s only a matter of time before this concerning behavior is elevated to a similar status.

american lady on leisure travel.

What is Omniomania?

Experts have been concerned about Omniomania for decades. Despite the growing recognition of its potential to cause harm to individuals who are affected, however, neither international nor government authorities have offered a clear classification for this still-emerging disease.

Shopping addiction is currently excluded from the list of addictive disorders recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. In fact, whether it is more appropriately categorized as a form of addiction or obsessive-compulsive disorder is still being debated.

Black (2007) offers a definition that states, “Compulsive buying disorder (CBD) is characterized by excessive shopping cognitions and buying behavior that leads to distress or impairment.”

Also termed as Omniomania or Oniomania, CBD can be further broken down into fashion addiction and other forms. Experts say that affected individuals may be drawn to buy and horde specific items only, such as jewelry, bags, or pens.

Compulsive vs. Impulsive Shopping: What is the Difference?

A study by Faber (2010) offers differentiation. He explains that impulse buying is a “sudden and powerful urge” to buy straight away. Modern marketing and advertising practices will often tap into this switch by creating an artificial shortage or a limited time offer, among other selling tactics.

On the contrary, Faber defines compulsive buying as the “uncontrollable urge to buy” where an unmet urge results in “tension that can only dissipate with buying”. He adds that this behavior is driven by the short-term satisfaction derived from the actual act of spending money rather than actually owning the item bought. He further points out that people who exhibit compulsive shopping and hoarding hardly even use the items they buy at all.

Facts And Statistics About Compulsive Buying Disorder

The largest cross-population survey conducted to estimate the prevalence of CBD across locations, that is, the US and non-US based, was published in 2015. Based on the assumptions made and estimates drawn by the researchers, 5% of the population are affected by shopping addiction.

Shopping Addiction in the US

In the US, the estimate is slightly higher, at 5.8%. Although, the data is based on a study conducted 10 years earlier in 2006 with 2,513 phone survey respondents covered. The researchers further concluded that retail, including fashion, addiction similarly affected men and women at fairly equal rates.

Does CBD Affect More Men or Women?

Couple with shopping bags in town.

Contrary to the findings of Koran et al., however, other studies reported that women are disproportionately affected compared to men. A study by Schlosser et al. (1994) characterized the typical shopper affected by compulsive shopping as a 31-year old female who started getting hooked on destructive buying behavior since she was 18 years old.

In the UK, an estimated 92% of all individuals affected by the emerging disease are females.

Experts, however, explain that the differences may be superficial. Women are perceived to be more open about their habits that may signify offline and online shopping addiction in general than men are. Men would often undermine habits that researchers often use as indicators of compulsive buying, whereas women, on the other hand, have a general tendency to exaggerate.

Is Shopping Addiction Associated with Other Disorders?

The causes of compulsive shopping continue to be explored. Even so, some studies now reveal that the presence of specific types of disorders may be driving an individual’s obsession to buy.

Lejoyeux et al. (2005) found a positive association between compulsive shopping and clinically diagnosed cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Those who exhibited signs for both disorders were found to give in to the urge to shop by about 50% of the time they feel the need to buy something.

Another study by Faber et al. (1995) showed that there is a correlation between shopping addiction and binge eating. Researchers found that binge eaters were more likely to engage in CBD and vice-versa.

Causes of Shopping Addiction

There has yet to be a consensus among experts about what factors drive people to suffer from either offline and online shopping addiction. Nevertheless, there are studies, albeit very few are available, that have shown possible positive correlations between these factors and CBD.

Listed below are some of the potential causes of Omniomania.

Introversion

People who are shy and enjoy the anonymity of online interactions are more likely to develop internet addiction and other undesirable habits on the web, such as addictions to online gambling, online gaming, cybersex, and compulsive shopping.

Internet Addiction

Individuals who are lonely, depressed, suffering from anxiety, or value themselves lowly tend to create and maintain relationships over the Internet. They tend to enjoy engaging in virtual activities, which may include online shopping, more than their offline counterparts.

Internet addiction is also dangerous by itself and requires treatment.

Escapism and Coping Mechanism

Experts have also argued that CBD is a kind of addiction that develops as an individual’s way of coping with pressure.

Aggressive Consumer Marketing Tactics

Omniomania has been shown to affect the rewards pathway of the brain in the same manner that an addictive substance would deliver instantaneous pleasure. In the case of this behavioral disorder, the person who is addicted responds to stimuli created by ads and other marketing tactics he or she has been engaged with. The result is an overvaluation of the rewards of shopping for a particular product or service.

Comorbidities

More specifically, experts have proposed that people who are diagnosed with other disorders, a.k.a. have dual diagnosis, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and binge eating, are at higher risk of developing fashion addiction or any other type of destructive buying behavior. See the previous section for more details.

Compulsive Buying Disorder Symptoms

There is no doubt that shopping addiction causes a destructive preoccupation that has a high potential of making lives and relationships fall apart. Unfortunately, retail therapy is a contemporary consumerism concept that has gained wide acceptance.

Experts also worry that the ease and instantaneous nature of online shopping could be fuelling this emerging health issue, particularly online shopping addiction.

So, how can you tell if you or someone you care about may require shopping addiction help? There has yet to be an authoritative list, but the most commonly cited compulsive shopping symptoms are listed below.

Experience a Repetitive Rewards-Craving Cycle

People who have a fashion addiction, for instance, will crave buying new items as a way to cope. This could be negative feelings, such as peer pressure, low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. Except for that, right after purchasing a product or service, guilt immediately follows, which drives the buyer to purchase again to feel better, except the vicious cycle keeps going at his or her expense.

Female hand holds a credit card.

Preoccupation to Purchase the Next Item

A simple test simply requires a person to honestly ask oneself or another this question: “How often do you think about shopping in a day?” It’s normal for people to go on a shopping spree from time-to-time. However, if the majority of daily activities already starts revolving around looking for the next best buy then, that could signal a cause for concern.

Strong Emotional Attachment

This may pertain to the item desired or to the act of spending money in general. When a person experiences strong agitation or becomes uneasy when unable to buy something in almost every instance, then Omniomania could be an issue.

Loss of Self-Control

Despite recognizing that there is a problem, the person affected may not be withheld from making the next purchase. The urge is too strong that even when the act of buying excessively is already causing issues, the person affected will continue to crave to derive satisfaction from shopping.

Socio-Economic Breakdown

A shopaholic, like any other addict, will find it extremely difficult to drop this problematic habit even when in the face of financial hardships and debt, and even when it causes tension in the affected person’s relationships with loved ones. Lower economic productivity may also become an issue, so does focusing on the important things that require utmost attention, such as caring for children or taking on responsibilities in the workplace.

Short and Long Term Effects of CBD

Shopping addiction can have a variety of consequences, both long-term and short-term. Unlike substance addiction, however, where the physical symptoms of dependence, addiction, and withdrawal are apparent, this type of abuse is rigged with emotional impacts only.

Here a table summarizing the short-term and long-term side effects of Omniomania:

Timing of Impact Physical Effects Emotional Effects
Short-Term Physical manifestations of happiness and well-being Happiness and the feeling of being rewarded
Long-Term Physical manifestations of depression, anxiety, lack of sleep, and decreased well-being, often due to overwhelming debt Depression, worry, and anxiety

Feeling remorseful and guilty

Embarrassment

Craving for satisfaction, a momentary reward derived from splurging

Shopping Addiction Help

Compulsive buying disorder may seem cliche, but it certainly comes with destructive consequences at the individual, family, and societal levels; thus, meriting utmost attention. Access to care and support should be made available to those who may require shopping addiction treatment.

Among the most often recommended intervention programs for people who may be suffering from omniomania are listed below.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT programs focus on introducing improvements to an individual’s thought process. It targets problematic individual responses to certain triggers, such as ads in the case of compulsive spending money.

There is some evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness and lasting efficacy of this approach. People who identify as shopaholics reported a declining urge to buy following treatment and up to six months following the program. However, more robust evidence is needed to establish the benefits of this approach.

Many times, this approach is also complemented with group counseling and family counseling to establish a social support system for the person affected.

Financial Coaching

Since addiction to excessive buying often results in overwhelming debt, financial interventions are necessary to overcome this undesirable behavior. Regaining control over one’s finances also helps patch up broken relationships caused by the financial burden of excessive shopping.

Fin coach discuss financial reports.

Medication

Medication for compulsive shopping remains largely experimental. One of the most promising medication-assisted treatment interventions is the use of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI). These medications are already widely prescribed for the treatment of depression, so the safety profile is quite well-established by now. However, its effectiveness in treating CBD requires further exploration.

In general, CBD has received little attention. Recognizing that it is a growing public health issue expected to expand the availability of knowledge about how best to treat this condition.

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Published on: January 13th, 2021

Updated on: January 14th, 2021

About Author

Peter J. Grinspoon, MD

Dr. Peter Grinspoon is an experienced physician with long-term clinical practice experience. As a former analgesic addict, Dr. Grinspoon knows precisely how important it is to provide patients with effective treatment and support. Medical writing for him is the way to communicate with people and inform them about their health.