You buy, you wake up, you are bankrupt. How to solve your problems with shopping

Mar 07, 2019

“Hello, my name is Rebecca Bloomwood and I am a shopaholic.”

It has been noticed that more and more people have developed a tendency towards compulsive buying. With its increasing frequency some specialists say that shopping can become an addiction, and it requires a lot of attention. Fascination with shopping has a similar effect on the brain as drugs and other types of addiction. Let’s compare the most common features of shopping and alcohol addictions:

Shopping addiction

A person enjoys shopping

Alcohol addiction

A person enjoys drinking

A person feels unwell without shopping

A person feels unwell without alcohol

A person is almost or completely unable to control the amount they spend

A person is almost or completely unable to control the amount they drink

Shopping “eats” into a large part of the budget, which leads to conflicts within the family and a lower quality of life

Alcohol has a negative effect on a person and those around

As you can see, the two conditions have a lot in common. According to statistics, around 5% of people have a shopping addiction, with younger people being more prone to developing it. Many people think only women can get addicted. In fact, women often find it easier to confess their love of  shopping. Men can equally be prone to compulsive spending, they just explain it differently  – for example by providing serious reasons such as collecting.

When comes the time to sound the alarm? Is there any need to? Let’s find out why people become addicted to shopping, what distinguishes addicts from others who enjoy buying, and how to fight the addiction. You will also be able to check whether you have this addiction.

What is a shopping addiction?

Shopping addiction, or oniomania, is a strong and often irresistible urge to buy things you don’t need, merely for the sake of buying. This term, along with a description of the symptoms, appeared at the end of 19th century thanks to psychiatrists Emil Kraepelin and Eugen Bleuler. In reality, people started to pay more attention to this problem only at the end of last century. Now scientists know more about shopping addiction as a serious issue, which also means there are ways to overcome this problem.

Life stories

I looked into a shop window

and saw another world, a miraculous world of perfect things.

Here all the grown up girls get what they want.

“The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic” by Sophie Kinsella

Compulsive buying stems from learned behavior, although it can also be related to a genetic predisposition to addictions in general. A person develops a habit to replace various needs with shopping. Here are some examples:

Mary is sad because her manager yelled at her. She wants to be happier and she knows that shopping is fun. Mary goes shopping and spends her whole month’s salary. Unfortunately, Mary’s manager yells a lot, so she feels the need to boost her mood quite often. 

John’s family is in a difficult situation. Everyone is constantly arguing and yelling, and John’s mother has depression. John knows that buying a new tank in a game will boost his mood and help to distract him from his troubles. Unlike the family situation and his mother’s health, shopping is something John has control over. 

Jane has relationship issues. All advertisements persuade her that “real women always buy this thing”. Jane wishes to be a real woman, so she buys everything she can – such as make-up, clothes and accessories. All of this in the hope of finding herself a good man. 

Unfortunately, none of these people can solve their long-term problems in this way. Shopping acts as a pair of crutches, a temporary support that does not eliminate the issue.

Seven causes for becoming a shopping addict

Every time I add something to my pile, I feel a little whoosh of pleasure,

like a firework going off. And for a moment, everything’s all right.

“The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic” by Sophie Kinsella


While the people from our examples buy hoards of useless things, let us look at the situations and emotions that lead to shopping addiction.

  1. Obtrusive advertising

A lot of the media tells us what we should do to become the best, the most real, the most confident etc. “Housewives choose this mayo”, “get a natural look with these 10 types of foundation”, “all women will be yours if you use this deodorant”, “your friends will be jealous if you buy this watch”. These are just a few examples of the ways marketing experts manipulate us. The advertisement itself is focused on the things we obtain if we buy the item, rather than its quality: happiness, love, attention from the opposite sex. Advertisements offer a dream, and many people  fall for it easily.

  1. Family issues

Unreasonable saving. For example, if parents were forced to cut down expenses (or did so willingly), bought only food and necessities and rarely toys , then their children, when they grow up, may try to compensate for the lack of childhood material things and spend all their own money on shopping.

Overspending. Another extreme example is overspending. This is when the parents are shopping addicts themselves or try to compensate for the lack of attention and love towards the child by buying new toys and other items. The child gets used to the idea that love equals spending and consequently adopts this pattern.

  1. Desire for freedom and control over one’s own life

A lot of young people think that shopping frees them from parental control, allowing them to make their own decisions, and enabling them to control their own lives (after all, they decide for themselves what they need and what they will buy). The same pattern can be observed in families with controlling  members (parents, spouse etc.).

  1. Self-doubt

In this case people want to raise their self-esteem by indulging in shopping. This makes them feel wealthy (“I can afford many things, I am not poor”), attractive (“I buy expensive clothes and make-up”) and/or respectable (“I have fashionable accessories”) etc.

  1. Lack of joy in life

This, as well as parting with a loved one, extreme stress, a lack of hobbies, physical inactivity and poor social communication can cause the addiction. In these instances, shopping becomes an easy way to enjoy life and relieve the boredom.

  1. Family problems

According to specific data, people whose relatives have developed depression, anxiety, alcohol addiction etc. are more at risk of becoming shopping addicts.

  1. Disposition towards depression and anxiety

This often goes hand in hand with shopping addiction. Shopping (along with overeating) enables people to temporarily distract themselves from distressing thoughts. It may also momentarily  silence the anxiety which stems from the discrepancy between a real and ideal “me” and create an illusion of being active.

All these categories have a common feature: shopping does not solve any problems. It does not relieve anxiety or signs of depression, neither does it  act as a natural and simple way to find peace.

The difference between a shopping addict and a regular person.

When I am in the shop, the world seems better. But then darkness crawls back, and I go there again.

“The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic” by Sophie Kinsella

You might say: “Well, I bought myself a nice new blouse when I was upset. Does that really make me a shopping addict?”

Of course not. Single purchases do not turn us into addicts, regardless of our mental state during the purchase. How can we recognize the problem then?

Common buyer

Shopping addict

Usually knows what they want to buy 

Buys things for fun and doesn’t use them afterwards 

Knows why they need their new item and has a use for it 

Buys things for fun and doesn’t use them afterwards 

A desire to buy an item does not interfere with other thought processes 

Fascination with buying overwhelms other thoughts and desires 

Is usually content with their purchases if the items are of good quality 

Often blames themselves for buying useless or expensive items 

Rarely speaks about shopping 

Often discusses their purchases 

Does not get upset or feel slight sorrow when they are unable to buy something 

Gets upset and crestfallen when they are unable to buy something 

Shopping is a fun way to pass some time, but it is definitely not the only one 

Shopping is the best thing in the world 

Shopping is one of the most ineffective and short-lived ways to relieve stress or a bad mood. Purchasing items never improve your mental state in the long-term – much like alcohol, smoking, eating, and watching TV. You will eventually get angry and disappointed with yourself after excessive buying. A shopping addict usually goes through the following cycle: 

Sometimes shopping addiction can result in people getting deep into debt. Sufferers may delete notifications about their purchases, lie to their friends or relatives, lose their social connections, and even commit crimes in order to fulfill their urge to buy. This addiction can also lead to pathological hoarding.

An example of a room of a shopping addict and a hoarder

Stages of shopping addiction

Just something small, to cheer me up.

A T-shirt or something. Or even some toothpaste.

I need to buy myself something. I won’t spend much.

I’ll just go in, and…

“The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic” by Sophie Kinsella

A shopping addiction does not suddenly appear at its serious stage, it gradually develops. As with other addictions, there are 5 stages of habit formation. Let us look at the stages described by G. V. Starshenbaum [1], a psychologist and author of several books on addictology (the science of addiction):

Stage 1. Formation. A person experiences an emotional lift during shopping. This could be a sense of happiness or risk etc. They form a connection: buying equals fun.

Stage 2. Habit. A person resorts to shopping when they are upset, anxious, or experience other negative emotions. They develop an idea that shopping is the easiest and most available way to boost their mood. Ideally the treatment of the addiction should begin at this stage.

Stage 3. Dissolving. Shopping becomes an immediate and stereotypic reaction to various life events. The urge to buy prevails over other desires. A person does not accept criticism, ignores advice, and disregards the problems of others. It is quite difficult to get rid of the addiction at this stage without professional help.

Stage 4. Addiction. A person distances themselves from others, loses any social connections and dives deep into their addiction. Shopping is not as enjoyable as it used to be and he/she feels the urge to do it more and more often.

Stage 5. Personal degradation. A person exhausts their resources and they are always upset and depressed. Shopping does not improve their mood any longer.

Understanding you are not a shopping addict

  1. You know the feeling when you see a handsome guy,

    he smiles at you, and suddenly your heart melts like butter on hot  toast?

    That’s the feeling I get when I enter a shop.

    “The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic” by Sophie Kinsella


    Use our check-list to find out whether you have a disposition towards shopping addiction. Read the following statements and rate your responses to them. Every time you answer “yes” or “mostly yes”, you earn 1 point. Answers “no” and “mostly no” give you 0 points.

Shopping addiction check-list

I enjoy choosing and buying things in shops

I am often angry with myself due to excessive spending

I had to take a loan or borrow money to buy an item I really wanted, but didn’t actually need

I feel guilty for creating unnecessary expenses

I sometimes promise myself not to buy new things, but then I break this promise

When I feel sad, I go shopping or look at items online

Neither me nor my family members use most of the things I buy

I feel sad and upset when I cannot buy something

I feel that I cannot control my shopping

I would like to buy less


  • If you have scored at least 4 points, you should think about consulting a specialist.
  • If you have less than 4 points, you are most likely to be able to control your desire to buy new things.

Getting rid of shopping addiction

There are lots of free pleasures which we forget

because we’re so busy spending money,

like parks and museums or a picnic in the open country and the simple joy of a country walk.

“The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic” by Sophie Kinsella


You may be feeling upset after seeing your results, but please don’t panic. Shopping addiction is a problem with behavior, meaning it is a psychological, not a physical addiction. You will not experience any withdrawal symptoms after quitting it. Your body does not become damaged by it, unlike people with alcohol and drug addictions. This simply means that it is much easier to treat, while medication can be less effective than psychotherapy. Behavior and cognitive behavior therapy work exceptionally well in treating shopping addiction. The 7Spsy method is based exactly on that. With this behavior modification technique, you will get rid of the habit of obsessive buying in just 2-6 weeks.  

Behavior therapy aims at discovering and changing knee-jerk behavioral reactions. For example, a shopping addict may go shopping to cope with  stress. They start by doing this occasionally, but eventually this behavior pattern takes more and more of their living space and becomes the ‘turn to’ when handling stress.

The shopping urge is caused by a variety of factors. For example, parents might buy toys for their child if they think it is a way to express love, and the child might become used to asking for new things when they want to feel  parental love. As a result, all members of the family develop the habit of replacing communication with material goods purchased from the shops.  

How can we treat shopping addiction if this is a developed mindset? First you need to carefully analyze all of those situations which motivate you to go shopping. This will help you to figure out your mindset and a set of convictions that lead to the development of the shopping addiction.

During our behavior modification course, a psychologist will help you discover these convictions and replace them with healthier behavior patterns.

Remoteness also plays a crucial role. Many shopping addicts are ashamed of their excessive spending and try to hide it, but they are willing to answer test problems. Moreover, testing is convenient and saves time. The 7Spsy behavior modification technique is completely private, and our specialists will be able to focus on your problem without discussing personal topics.

Overcoming your addiction will make your life more colorful and entertaining. You will learn to enjoy simple things, like walking in the park, talking to friends, reading books, and watching interesting movies. Life without addiction can be truly interesting and beautiful. Never forget that.


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

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