Captured by Useless Purchases: Helping your Loved Ones to Overcome Shopping Addiction

Aug 06, 2019

“I earn a lot, yet sometimes I feel that I am living in poverty. This is all because my wife has a shopping addiction. What can I do to help her hold back on impulsive buying?

We have been together for 7 years. When we just started living together, I didn’t really see her splurging on things. However, once she went on maternity leave, everything ran amok. All of our family budget gets spent on endless purchases. Let’s be frank here: it is all just garbage which fills all the closets and cabinets in our home. She is simply unable to stop if there is even a little money left in her wallet. She comes back home with bags and bags of things, from clothes and shoes to various doodads. She buys it for me, for herself and for our son. And afterwards we don’t even have any money for food and necessities and I have to borrow from my parents.

I tried to help her get rid of this habit of buying everything she sees, I took away all her credit cards, I don’t let her go shopping without me and sometimes I simply go alone. However, nothing helps—she doesn’t want to throw away all the accumulated garbage, she borrows money from her friends and has now switched to online shopping. I think it is even worse than alcohol addiction. Our relationship is crumbling day by day.”

– Aleksey, 33



Think about the word “shopping”. What do you feel about it? Quite likely something nice. However, many psychologists agree that shopping can become a crippling addiction that can affect health and destroy relationships in the same way that gambling, and drugs can. Both the addict and their family members suffer. Let’s find out how we can help a person trapped in the vicious circle of impulsive buying and whether shopping addiction can be treated.

Signs of shopping addiction

Shopping addiction (or oniomania) is an irresistible urge to buy things without an obvious need to have them. For people with this addiction, any shopping trip becomes both leisure and entertainment, so, in essence, an important source of joy. [1]

Like any other addiction, this one develops in stages. First a person simply enjoys watching the merchandise from a distance. Once they experience an emotional lift from endorphines (the happy hormones), they start buying. Afterwards, shopping becomes a habit, and it can feel like the only way to relieve stress in difficult life circumstances. In time, the addiction drives out every other thing in a person’s life, becoming their one and only passion. At this stage, endless buying does not bring an emotional lift anymore. However, if the person refrains from shopping, they fall into depression. At its extreme, shopping addiction leads to complete personal degradation. A person cannot control themselves anymore when going to a shopping mall. [2]

What then, are the signs of a shopping addiction?


  • An addict spends more than they earn. Things like paying for utilities, maintaining the household and even eating are put on the back burner. Obtaining pleasure from the process of buying becomes the most important part of an addict’s life.
  • They often buy useless things, filling every inch of their house with them.
  • They only talk about their purchases or the next shopping trip.
  • On impulse, they may even take a big loan to buy a desired item. The consequences do not matter at that moment, obtaining the article is everything.
  • Shopping addicts display mood swings, from an emotional lift after buying to apathy when they are unable for some reason to purchase the item they require.
  • They do not admit that this addiction makes their life harder and destroys their relationships.

Discovering an addict: a test

It can sometimes be hard to find out whether a person you know is a shopping addict. Some people simply like to go shopping. They choose new clothes, search for interesting offers from their favorite brands and follow up sales or special offers. This behavior is normal and doesn’t point to a mental disorder. 

If you feel, however, that your loved one’s urge for purchasing is developing into a mania, you should analyze their behavior. Shopping addiction is not just about relentless spending. It is also about the emotional state during purchases. We must consider all the signs that point to oniomania.

Here is a test that can help you understand whether you should worry about your friend or relative. [2] Answer “yes” or “no” to these 10 statements:

1.   A person is so consumed with telemarketing that they often order advertised goods, regardless of their usefulness.

2.   A person breaks all promises and dives into personal and family savings just to make purchases.

3.   Many of the purchased items lie in the closet with the price tag still attached, because the person doesn’t use the items.

4.   A person is aware of the start of the sales in the nearest stores and rushes there to “buy everything for a song”.

5.   A person always buys expensive presents for friends and relatives, even if they cannot afford it.

6.   A person constantly borrows money or takes loans from banks.

7.   A person takes a long time to return the money they have borrowed, which affects their relationships with friends.

8.   A person experiences a short-term sense of guilt after impulsive spending.

9.   A person often hides their real spending and lies about the amount of their purchases.

10.                A person becomes apathetic, irritable and even aggressive if, for some reason, they are unable to buy a certain thing.


Count your positive replies. If you have answered “yes” to more than 6 statements, your loved one is close to becoming a shopping addict. Support them in overcoming that addiction.

How people become shopping addicts: causes of oniomania

There is an opinion that shopping is a good way to boost one’s mood and relieve stress. This is partially due to the positive emotions we can receive from obtaining new things. However, shopping becomes an addiction when a person gets stuck in a vicious circle, first comes the pleasure from buying, then the sense of guilt and disappointment in oneself due to the relentless spending, which leads to more shopping to relieve stress.

Psychologists think that people who lacked attention and care from their parents during childhood are more prone to developing oniomania. Such people continue suffering from the “lack of love” even after becoming adults, so their purchases become gifts to themselves. Also, a shopping addiction can develop in people who have grown up in poor families. In such cases, multiple purchases become the easiest way to demonstrate their wealth and validity to others. [3]

However, according to psychologists the main reasons for shopping addiction come from personality features and relationships with other people. [2] Let’s look at these causes for addiction:

1.   Inadequate self-esteem

If a person lacks self-esteem, they may start to buy things that can make them look more attractive and worthy. There is a risk that such behavior spirals out of control and turns into a shopping addiction.

Psychologists think that women are especially at risk for developing shopping addictions caused by low self-esteem. When women are unhappy with their appearance, they start filling their closets with clothing, accessories, and makeup products. Men are rarely affected by the same cause. [3]

2.   Emotional discomfort

Anxiety, chronic stress and depression, and a tendency towards anger and hysterical outbursts can lead to emotional discomfort, which in turn can cause shopping addiction. A person uses shopping to fight a negative emotional state. Of course, this does not solve the problem, it only makes it worse.

3.   Family and work troubles

An inability to solve conflicts efficiently, regardless of their root cause, can lead to addiction. This can be an addiction to any bad habit, including shopping. Multiple purchases give the person an illusion of control over their life. This way they try to escape their constant troubles.

4.   Loneliness

Active shopping can give a person a lot of positive emotions due to the secretion of “happy hormones”. This helps them fill their inner void and distract themselves from their loneliness.

Psychologists think that loneliness and the sense of an inner void can often lead to shopping addiction in women. Such women can be conscious of common stereotypes and feel guilty that they had failed to have a family before reaching a certain age. [3]

5.   Low level of self-control


Due to individual personal features, acquired habits and peculiarities of upbringing, a person may have a low level of self-control, which can lead to shopping addiction. In such cases the person does not work on their behavior, and they are unable to accept their emotions and resist unplanned spending by putting their foot down and refusing to buy new things.

Types of shopping addicts

All people with a tendency towards unplanned purchases can be divided into 3 groups. [4] Such a classification helps to plan ways to fight the addiction and get a better view of its root causes. Pay attention to the behavior of your loved one to find out in which group they belong.


Such people do not consider themselves addicts and do not accept the existence of the problem. However, they cannot disregard the “on sale” mark on an item and often make unplanned purchases.


These rarely buy useless things, being more practical. However, when they see a necessary item in a shop, they buy several types of it (with different textures, taste or smell). Such people like discounts and bonuses, as they are convinced that by buying heaps of discounted items they are actually saving money.



Such people buy everything at once, without thinking about the consequences. Their immediate satisfaction is the only thing that matters.

Helping a person overcome shopping addiction

Many psychologists compare shopping addiction to gaming and mobile addiction. Those are also types of addictions where no harmful substances are involved. However, they cause a similar amount of damage as alcohol and nicotine addiction. 

It may seem that the signs of shopping addiction are not so prominent as to threaten the health of an addict. However, oniomania has severe social consequences. The friends and family of an addict must illustrate this to them. Try to explain to your loved one that the irresistible urge for shopping will inevitably lead to constant arguments about money and an unmanageable debt load. It will also strain the relationships with friends due to the inability to return the borrowed money. 

If an addict can accept their addiction and the problems caused by it, they will have an easier time ridding themselves of it. By working together you can build a strategy for overcoming the addiction. You should also come to an agreement that you follow this path without lying about spending on impulsive purchases.

Psychologists say that prohibitions and ultimatums do not work with addicts. This is equally true for shopping addiction. Strategies like taking away credit cards, prohibiting a person from going shopping and emotional blackmail are ineffective when fighting oniomania. An addict can come up with many reasons for leaving the house and is able to find the money for the next purchase somewhere. In some cases, addicts can even turn to stealing and fraud to obtain the desired item. [3]


Be warned that a person who was addicted to shopping will experience withdrawal symptoms. Without the dose of adrenaline obtained from purchasing, a person may feel apathy and depression or even become aggressive towards others. You must not abandon an addict in such a state. They need your help and support.

Ways to fight shopping addiction

“My husband is a shopping addict. He is 36, and I am his second wife. We have been together for 3 years, yet it took me a while to notice that he is obsessed with shops. At first, I considered his extravagant spending to be an advantage, a sign of being generous. However, later I started to become wary of it. He buys things we need and things we don’t. We use far less food and clothes than he buys. It is almost impossible to stop him when he is in a store.

Now I am already starting to panic. I have begun to find things hidden in our apartment, he buys them and hides them from me to evade arguments. I gave him an ultimatum: if he buys another thing without telling me, I will throw that thing right away. He seemed to understand me. However, that didn’t last long, he has returned to unnecessary spending and purchasing. His son from his first marriage told me that my husband had even gone bankrupt before due to his addiction. I had heard about women developing a shopping addiction, but I was surprised to see a man with one too. I have no idea how to fight this addiction of his.”

– Irina, 30

Like with any other addiction, treating oniomania requires the correct approach. Here is what psychologists recommend:

1.   Keep a diary

Suggest keeping a diary to an addict, where they can describe their thoughts and emotions during impulsive buying and also record their spending. It will help them understand what moves them to endless shopping trips, whether work problems, stress, or fatigue. If you know the cause, you can easier find a way to fight the addiction.

2.   Control over spending

It is important to ensure that the addict has no access to “spare” money. Family budget must be maintained to exclude impulsive buying, or a total financial collapse is inevitable. Become responsible for essential spending, leaving a small amount of “pocket money” for an addict.

It is important here that you do not take the money away, you simply negotiate this way of sharing responsibility. Do not forget that strict prohibition is ineffective. A shopping addict who accepts the existence of the problem will agree to that.

3.   Interesting hobby

An addict should learn how ineffective their attempts to beat a bad mood with shopping really is. Suggest they take up an interesting hobby. It is even better to search for a common activity together.

You should help to develop a positive behavior pattern. Once the person feels stressed, they should simply engage in their hobby and not rush to the store.

4.   Financial literacy

A “seasoned” shopping addict is often unaware how much their bad habit damages the family budget. You should get that idea across to them. It is time for an addict to learn some financial literacy. Make a list of your income and spending, plan big purchases and create finite shopping lists before each trip to the store.

5.   Willpower

Overcoming any psychological addiction is always difficult for a person with a low level of self-control. Help an addict develop their willpower, as they struggle to say “no” to their desires.

You can start slowly, by insisting on a pause before buying things. If a person became fascinated with a certain item in the store, take them away from the shop window and ask if they could wait a day before buying. More often than not, the desire to purchase an item will go away with such a delay. Let a shopping addict develop their restraint and train their willpower.

Treatment of shopping addiction can last months or even years. It is mainly due to the fact that you cannot completely eliminate the source of addiction from a person’s life (online and offline shops). That is why you may experience various failures on the way to overcoming the bad habit. You may, for example, think that impulsive buying has become a thing of the past but discover a lot of unnecessary items in your home the next day. You may need to consult a psychologist before an addiction gets totally out of control.

The 7Spsy behavior modification technique course has shown great results in fighting psychological addictions, including the one related to shopping. This method is based on the works of I. P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, A. A. Ukhtomsky etc.

By taking this course, a shopping addict can change their established behavior pattern of visiting a store time and time again and spending more that they can afford. An addict will accept the problem and find the strength to fight the condition that poisons their relationships and empties their wallet. A psychologist will help an addict to replace a negative mindset with a positive one. An addict will learn that buying useless things is not a good way to fight stress, and that such an action will not make them more attractive or successful.

Many addicts refrain from consulting a psychologist, because they do not want to speak about their personal issues. The 7Spsy behavior modification course is free of this practice. Participation is strictly confidential. Tell this to your loved one, as this may motivate them to take part. The course lasts up to 6 weeks. All classes are taken remotely at the patient’s convenience. A psychologist supports the patient for the whole duration of the course by consulting them via e-mail, by phone or during online chat.


Information from this website cannot be used for self-therapy and self-diagnostics. 

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