Shopping addiction treatment

  • FREE addiction assessment at your nearest Priory hospital.
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Free addiction assessment

Page clinically reviewed by Claire Rimmer (BA (Hons), Dip.Psychology, FDAD (NCAC)), Lead Addiction Therapist at Priory Hospital Altrincham, in March 2024.

What is shopping addiction?

Shopping addiction is a serious and destructive behavioural disorder, which causes people to struggle to manage the compulsive urge to shop for items. It involves someone becoming preoccupied 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% and 16% of adults in the UK during their lifetime, or around 8 million people. It's primarily observed in women in their late teens or early twenties. The emotional rollercoaster you experience 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 immediately after a purchase, before feeling guilty or ashamed afterwards.

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, some key factors that set 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 only happen occasionally, and will often take place around an annual holiday or special event, including during Christmas season or when you're buying presents for a family member’s birthday.

Shopping addiction - with shopping addiction, shopping takes place at any time and often becomes part of a routine as opposed to a one-off 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.

Signs and symptoms of a shopping addiction

Priory can help you to identify 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 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've spent or how many items you've bought
  • Hiding or throwing away items that you've purchased as a way of concealing your shopping from friends or family members
  • Continuing to shop even when you know that it's financially unwise for you to do so
  • Trying but failing to limit the frequency of your shopping trips or the amount of money you spend

What causes shopping addiction?

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

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

It's thought that between 10% and 15% of people are predisposed to becoming addicted to the brain’s release of feel-good chemicals, including dopamine and endorphins. These can be triggered after purchasing an item in a store or online.

The factors that can influence a person's chances of developing an addiction 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 they've 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 to misuse substances and develop an addiction. However, instead of alcohol, cocaine or another drug, shopping addicts turn to compulsive spending as a means of relief.

The impact of shopping addiction on a person’s quality of life shouldn't 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 we don't need, which can lead to a spending addiction.

Free addiction assessment

We recognise that reaching out for help can be daunting. That’s why we offer a free addiction assessment with a Priory expert at your nearest Priory hospital. Call our dedicated team today to arrange an assessment.

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Treatment for shopping addiction

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

At your free assessment, recommendation for suitable treatment will be discussed. Usually this will be outpatient one-to-one therapy with a specialist addiction therapist, but depending on your individual needs and/or co-morbid mental health concerns/diagnosis, a further assessment with a specialist addiction psychiatrist may be recommended.

Therapy and medication treatment

Depending on your treatment plan, 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 your everyday life.

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) - DBT aims to help you manage compulsive urges to shop by incorporating a mixture of group-based skills training and individual therapy. It involves mindfulness and emotional regulation as methods you can use to resist the temptation to shop.

Medication - as shopping addiction can involve co-occurring mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, you might need medication to relieve the symptoms of these conditions first and foremost, which can have a beneficial effect on your compulsive shopping behaviours.

If another mental health condition is 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, helping you to 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.

Private medical insurance

We are a registered and approved provider for all of the UK's leading private medical insurers. All of the services we offer at Priory can be funded through private medical insurance. This includes:

  • Mental health treatment
  • Addiction treatment
  • Eating disorder treatment

All clients will have access to our highly skilled and accredited clinicians, many of whom are published experts in their fields of treatment. Whatever your requirements, we're committed to working with you to get your life back on track.

Registered and approved provider

We are a registered and approved provider for all of the UK's leading private medical insurers.

Addiction treatment near me

We have addiction treatment centres located throughout the country, ensuring that you can access the support you need in a location that's convenient for you. To find your nearest addiction treatment centre, please use the search form below.

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