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Shopping addiction treatment

Shopping addiction, which is also known as 'compulsive shopping disorder' or 'oniomania', is a socially and financially damaging psychological condition.

Priory has treatment centres located across the UK where you can seek help for shopping addiction. Treatment for shopping addiction can take place as part of our 28-day Addiction Treatment Programme, with the length and type of treatment that you receive, dependent on your unique condition and the severity of your addiction. During treatment, you will be empowered to identify any deeper psychological problems that may be influencing your behaviour, and receive support with therapy and medication if required.

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While many people like to shop during time off, at weekends, or during seasonal holiday periods such as at Christmas, shopping addiction involves an overwhelming urge to shop and subsequently spend until it begins to adversely affect your life. This may include overspending and taking out several store credit cards in order to be able to purchase items, even if you may be aware that this could incur long-term financial debt.

Take our free initial addiction assessment

We understand that embarking upon shopping addiction help can be an emotionally turbulent time for you. With this in mind, Priory offers a free initial assessment with an experienced therapist at all of our addiction treatment hospitals to help you to discuss your addiction in confidence.

The compulsion to shop to excess can be seasonal or reflect an ongoing disorder, with the effect it has on your life similar to that experienced by more routinely discussed addictions such as substance abuse. Stretching beyond simply going on the occasional shopping spree, if you become addicted to shopping, you will regularly struggle to control the urge to make purchases, regardless of the requirement or use for a particular item.

Shopping addiction is considered the most socially reinforced behavioural addiction. The stigma attached to excessive drug or alcohol use in modern society doesn’t apply to compulsive shopping habits, with a consumerist lifestyle perceived as a measure of social status across much of the western world exacerbating the problem for many.     

Treatment for shopping addiction (oniomania) 

Research indicates that while the majority of compulsive shoppers will admit that they have a problem, many aren’t aware of how to get help for the behavioural disorder.

Flexible appointment times at a convenient Priory hospital or wellbeing centre near you provides access to our experts, who can assess your current shopping habits in the context of a wider assessment of your mental health. We can accurately identify any underlying psychological problems, and offer shopping addiction treatment with a combination of psychology, therapy and medication if required. The most important step is seeking initial shopping addiction help & support.

The type and length of shopping addiction treatment is dependent on your individual circumstances and the severity of the condition. You can be treated as an outpatient, where you will attend a Priory wellbeing centre for hourly sessions with your consultant, psychologist or therapist.

In more severe cases, you may require a more structured treatment approach which can include staying as an inpatient at one of our Priory hospitals for the duration of your treatment, where you can take part in a psychological group programme as well as receive regular sessions with your consultant.

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Therapy and medication treatment

Depending on the bespoke treatment plan you have been provided for shopping addiction, there are a wide range of therapeutic and medication based treatment options that can help relieve you of your compulsion to shop.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - the action-oriented approach of CBT involves working with your therapist to better understand how shopping addiction has impacted your life, and how your emotions, thoughts and behaviours are contributing towards the urge to shop excessively. This can also be conducted in a group setting, where other people going through the same issues as you provide a reassuring support network as you learn how to control compulsive urges.

Taking part in CBT sessions will enable you to learn more positive coping techniques and alternative methods for receiving the same pleasurable effects that shopping gives you, without being detrimental to you everyday life.           

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) - due to shopping addiction directly linking your thoughts to subsequent repeated behaviours, DBT aims to help you manage compulsive urges to shop by incorporating a mixture of group-based skills training and individual therapy involving mindfulness and emotional regulation as methods you can use to resist the temptation to purchase.

Medication - as shopping addiction can involve co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression as part of a dual diagnosis, medication may be required to relieve the symptoms of these conditions first and foremost, which can have a beneficial effect on compulsive shopping behaviours.

If it is found that another mental health condition may be causing you to shop excessively as a coping mechanism, then you may be prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication.                

12-Step Addiction Treatment Programme - for severe shopping addiction diagnoses which don’t respond to therapy or medication-based treatment programmes, our 12-Step Addiction Treatment Programme can provide you with the necessary tools to live as a recovering addict.

This can help prevent relapse after treatment, relying on the support of others sharing the same experience as you work towards managing your compulsive urges, as well as other aspects of your life which may have been affected during your addiction, such as your finances and relationships.         

For more information on the treatment that we offer for shopping addiction, please visit our approach to addiction treatment page.

What is a shopping addiction?

Shopping addiction is a serious and destructive behavioural disorder involving a persistent struggle to manage the compulsive urge to shop for items, and is compounded by the routine preoccupation with buying goods and shopping, whether on the high-street or online.

Otherwise known as ‘oniomania’, a compulsion to shop is believed to affect between 8-16% of adults in the UK during their lifetime, or around 8 million people, and is primarily observed in women in their late teens or early twenties. The emotional rollercoaster experienced if you have shopping addiction can leave you spending much of your waking moments thinking about shopping, getting anxious before a purchase, feeling a brief sense of euphoria immediate after a purchase, before feeling guilty or ashamed afterwards.

This repeated cycle of behaviour associated with shopping addiction leads to frequent shopping trips and an uncontrollable urge to shop despite being aware of the potential consequences, including getting into financial difficulty and relationship problems as a result of not curbing excessive shopping habits.

Understanding a shopping addiction

It is believed that a western world revolving around consumer purchasing has contributed to the large amount of people affected by shopping addiction. Television and online adverts encouraging you to buy products from a variety of brands has normalised the idea of shopping to excess, while society gender roles may explain the high level of women with the disorder as opposed to men.      

Usually perceived as a positive activity and a pleasurable distraction away from work or studies, people developing a compulsion to shop may be more prone to wanting to repeat the feel-good reward that buying a product creates in our brains. Much like an addiction to drugs or alcohol, shopping addiction happens because of a desire to make the brain release ‘happy chemicals’ such as dopamine that are involved in all activities related to shopping, from entering a shop and browsing through to the ultimate act of purchasing.                         

Signs and symptoms of a shopping addiction

Priory can help with the identification of shopping addiction and compulsive spending symptoms. After experiencing the short-lived feelings of pleasure and euphoria after purchasing an item, long-term symptoms can include financial problems as a result of spending beyond your means, feelings of guilt associated with purchases and strain on relationships with loved ones.

While it can be easier for a friend or family member to spot the signs of shopping addiction before you do, other signs and symptoms of shopping addiction can include:

  • Shopping either in person or online, as a way to deal with stress, pressure or other negative experiences in your life, with your mood improving as a result - albeit into a temporary euphoria
  • Frequently exceeding budgets when shopping
  • Often shopping impulsively, not because you need or want certain items, but simply because you feel an overwhelming compulsion to do so
  • Experiencing a sense of shame or guilt about how much you have spent or how many items you have purchased
  • Hiding or throwing away items that you have purchased as a way of concealing your shopping from friends or family members
  • Continuing to shop even when you know that it is financially unwise for you to do so
  • Trying but failing to limit the frequency of your shopping trips or the amount of money that you spend

How do I know whether I have a shopping addiction or just like to go on shopping sprees?

It can sometimes be difficult to determine the difference between enjoying a shopping spree and having a chronic shopping addiction. While there are similarities between the two, key factors setting them apart include:

Shopping spree - during a shopping spree, you may be more likely to spend larger sums of money than usual, or buy more items than you would during a typical shopping trip, although this will only extend to the amount of money you can afford to spend.

Shopping sprees also tend to happen on occasion, and will often take place around an annual holiday or special event, including during Christmas season or when you are buying presents for a family member’s birthday.

Shopping addiction - taking place at any time and often being part of a routine as opposed to an activity out of normal behaviour, signs of a shopping addiction include spending more money than you can afford on desired items, simply because you feel an urge to have them.

A shopping addiction may involve several shopping trips within a short period of time, each characterised by excessive and compulsive shopping habits which are often paid for with a range of credit or store credit cards.      

Dual diagnosis                                                                                               

Compulsive shopping is linked to many other psychiatric conditions which can be part of a dual diagnosis alongside shopping addiction, including:

What causes shopping addiction?

As with other addictive behaviours, the causes of compulsive shopping can be treated successfully, and follows a similar treatment programme at Priory as other addictions.

While there is no definitive cause of shopping addiction, it is believed that a combination of biological and environmental factors contribute to the likelihood of developing an addiction of any kind.

It is thought that between 10 to 15% of people are predisposed to becoming addicted to the brain’s release of feel-good chemicals including dopamine and endorphin, which can be triggered after purchasing an item in a store among many other life experiences.

These factors may include:

Biological factors

From a biological perspective, several studies have explored how the brains of sex addicts and gambling addicts react to stimuli that are associated with those behavioural compulsions.

The results of these studies suggest that certain behaviours trigger the brains of some people in a similar manner to how alcohol and other drugs prompt changes in the brains of drug addicts.

Extending these findings to shopping addiction, this means shopping may trigger a chemical reaction in your brain similar to what alcoholics or drug addicts experience when they misuse the substance that they have become addicted to.

Environmental factors

From an environmental perspective, experts also believe that compulsive shopping may be a means of dealing with stress or attempting to numb yourself to psychological pain related to past trauma. Again, this is similar to the experience that leads many people into substance misuse and subsequently to addiction. However, instead of alcohol, cocaine or another drug, you are turning to compulsive spending as a means of relief.

The impact of shopping addiction on a person’s quality of life should not be underestimated. The availability of access to the internet, and the greater trust in internet security for money transfer means that many more people who are in search of a bargain can end up in debt.

Online stores such as eBay and Amazon are a huge temptation due to their vast product ranges, encouraging us to purchase things that we don't need, which can lead to a spending addiction.

Take our free initial addiction assessment

We understand that embarking upon shopping addiction help can be an emotionally turbulent time for you. With this in mind, Priory offers a free initial assessment with an experienced therapist at all of our addiction treatment hospitals and clinics to help you to discuss your addiction in confidence.

For further details on how Priory can provide you with further assistance regarding Shopping Addiction Treatment, please call 0800 840 3219. For professionals looking to make a referral, please make an enquiry.

This page was reviewed by Sam Hickey in July 2021 and is scheduled to be reviewed again in July 2023. To view all Priory shopping addiction specialists, please click here.

What is a shopping addiction?
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Signs and symptoms of a shopping addiction
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How do I know whether I have a shopping addiction or just like to go on shopping sprees?
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What causes shopping addiction?
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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding shopping addiction treatment and rehabilitation, please call 0800 144 8969 or click here to book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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