Shopping Addiction (Over-Shopping, Compulsive Shopping)

In-depth information on over-shopping aka compulsive shopping, shopping addiction - including causes, symptoms and treatment.

In-depth information on compulsive shopping aka over-shopping or shopping addiction; including causes, symptoms and treatment.

Compulsive shopping or over-shopping is similar to other addictive behaviors and has some of the same characteristics as problem drinking (alcoholism), gambling addiction and overeating addictions. And while shopping addiction is not a recognized mental health or medical disorder, many mental health professionals believe it should be.

"People who 'shop till they drop' and run their credit cards up to the limit often have a shopping addiction," says Ruth Engs, EdD, a professor of applied health science at Indiana University. "They believe that if they shop they will feel better. Compulsive shopping and spending generally make a person feel worse."

A 2006 Stanford University study concluded that compulsive overspending or over-shopping is a legitimate disorder that affects approximately 6% (17,000,000) of the U.S. population and that men and women suffer about equally.

What is Shopping Addiction, Compulsive Shopping or Over-Shopping?

"We all shop for many reasons," says shopping addiction expert Terrence Shulman, LMSW, ACSW, "but the addict buys to relieve anxiety and over time the buying creates a dysfunctional lifestyle and more-and-more of their focus is on shopping and sometimes the cover-up too."

Donald Black, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa College of Medicine describes it like this: "Compulsive shopping and spending are defined as inappropriate, excessive, and out of control. Like other addictions, it basically has to do with impulsiveness and lack of control over one's impulses."

Shopaholics (as they are sometimes referred to) when they are feeling "out of sorts" shop for a "pick-me-up." They go out and buy, to get a high, or get a "rush" just like a drug or alcohol addict.

The People Who Engage in Over-Shopping, Compulsive Shopping Behavior

According to Engs, shopping addiction or over-shopping tends to affect more women than men. They often buy things they do not need.

Holiday seasons can trigger shopping binges among those who are not compulsive the rest of the year. Many shopping addicts go on binges all year long and may be compulsive about buying certain items, such as shoes, kitchen items or clothing; some will buy anything.

Engs says that women with this compulsive disorder often have racks of clothes and possessions with the price tags still attached which have never been used. "They will go to a shopping mall with the intention of buying one or two items and come home with bags and bags of purchases."

In some cases, shopaholics have an emotional "blackout" and do not remember even buying the articles. If their family or friends begin to complain about their purchases, they will often hide the things they buy. They are often in denial about the problem.

Because they can not pay their bills, their credit rating suffers. They have collection agencies attempting to get what is owed and may have legal, social and relationship problems. Shopaholics may attempt to hide their problem by taking on an extra job to pay for bills.

And while some people joke about it, for those sufferers, family members and friends affected, shopping addiction is no laughing matter.

Read more information about Shopping Addiction Treatment.


  • Prof. Ruth Engs, RN, EdD, Indiana University, Department of Applied Health Science
  • Donald Black, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa College of Medicine
  • Terrence Shulman, LMSW, ACSW, The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft and Spending

You can find a short shopping addiction quiz here that measures symptoms of shopping addiction.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2021, December 16). Shopping Addiction (Over-Shopping, Compulsive Shopping), HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Last Updated: December 30, 2021

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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