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Compulsive shopping and spending – a sign of shopping addiction?

Are you beginning to worry about your compulsive shopping and spending habit?

When we make a purchase, our brain releases endorphins and dopamine. For some, this momentary pleasure can lead to compulsive shopping, as the instant reward and motivation to re-experience the ‘rush’ starts to outweigh self-control and practical financial considerations.

Compulsive spending - which is also known as oniomania, shopping addiction and pathological buying - is when a person feels an uncontrollable need to shop and spend, either for themselves or others. Within this article, we will outline the signs and symptoms of compulsive shopping and spending, and highlight the treatment that is available for such addictions at Priory.

Signs of compulsive shopping and compulsive spending

If you are worried that you have lost control over the amount that you shop and spend, take a look at a number of the common signs and symptoms of a shopping addiction:

  • You spend as a reaction to feeling angry, sad or stressed
  • Your buying habits consistently and constantly distract you from other priorities such as work, spending time with your family and socialising
  • You buy excessive amounts of things you don’t really need, hoard the items you buy and don’t use the things you purchase
  • You spend excessive amounts of money on extravagant gifts for your family and friends
  • You spend more money than you can afford to
  • You spend an excessive amount of time visiting shops or shopping online
  • You have taken out multiple store cards, juggle a number of credit cards and have run up a significant debt
  • You hide purchases, receipts and bank statements from family members
  • You have attempted to cut down or stop shopping in the past, but have been unable to. This may have included deleting shopping apps or making a monthly budget, but finding that you were unable to persevere
  • Your shopping is having a negative impact on your stress levels, relationships and your health

What is causing you to shop and spend compulsively?

Many people develop an addiction as a way to cope with their emotions. This is the same for those with a shopping addiction.

Compulsive shopping and spending may be a way for you to avoid or mask negative and uncomfortable feelings such as sadness, boredom, stress and anxiety. For example, if you are dealing with something difficult at work, home, or in your relationships, you may turn to shopping to distract yourself and temporarily boost your mood. Over time, shopping may have become a habit and something that you consistently resort to as a distraction from life’s problems.

The effects of compulsive shopping and spending

Having a compulsive urge to shop and spend is likely to be having a dramatic and destructive effect on your life, and possibly the lives of those closest to you.

While you may still experience that initial rush of endorphins and dopamine when you buy something, it’s likely that these temporary feelings of excitement give way to guilt, shame and anxiety in the immediate aftermath of making a purchase. These feelings may then result in you going back to the shops or using shopping apps to spend more, and thus, you soon become trapped in what feels like a vicious cycle.

People with shopping addictions also often experience extreme financial difficulties, including significant debt. You may have maxed out your credit cards, or put a second mortgage on your home. As shopping addiction affects relationships, you may have also found that you’re beginning to distance yourself from your loved ones and neglecting your associated responsibilities.

Getting support for compulsive shopping and spending

If you are worried about your compulsive shopping, the most important first step for you to take is to recognise and accept that you have a problem.

Then, it is recommended that you seek support to help you overcome the issue. If you would like to come and speak to the Priory team, one of our free assessments* gives you the opportunity to learn more about us and ask any questions you have. It also helps our specialists to find out more about your circumstances so that they can recommend the most effective shopping addiction treatment.

At Priory, we are able to provide therapeutic programmes to people with shopping addictions. During this time, you will learn new ways to handle stress and any other negative emotions that have been causing you to shop and spend. Our team will also help you to understand the underlying reasons and triggers for your shopping habits, while providing you with coping strategies for an addiction-free life going forward. 

*Individuals with dual diagnosis may need to be assessed by a Consultant Psychiatrist which is a chargeable appointment.


Blog reviewed by Pamela Roberts (BSc (Hons), Fd Systemic/Family, Dip.Addictions Therapy, Dip.Sex Addiction, PG Dip.Group Facilitation, PG Dip.Trauma Therapy), Addictions Programme Manager at Priory Hospital Woking

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