Shopping is an activity that nearly everyone finds somewhat pleasurable. However, when shopping becomes a compulsive behavior that causes problems with family, work, and finances, it may be an addiction.

Shopping addiction goes by many names: oniomania, compulsive shopping, compulsive buying behavior, compulsive buying, compulsive consumption, and pathological buying. Some people call it shopaholism. Surprisingly, little effort has been put into researching compulsive shopping, which makes finding shopping addiction statistics difficult.

However, a large study that pooled data from several sources found that shopping addiction affects about 5% of the population. The condition seems to occur most commonly in wealthier countries — such as the United States, United Kingdom and Canada — although it does happen in less affluent countries.

Shopping addiction can have many harmful consequences. Among compulsive shoppers:

  • 58% have large debts
  • 42% can’t make their debt payment
  • 45% experience guilt about their shopping
  • 33% receive criticism from friends and family about their shopping
  • 8% have financial legal problems
  • 8% have criminal legal problems

Two groups of people who seem especially susceptible are university students, where 8% of the population are compulsive shoppers, and women, who may comprise up to 92% of compulsive shoppers.

Compulsive Shopping Facts

Compulsive shopping is an obsessive-compulsive behavior that cycles through four phases:

  1. Anticipation: Obsessive thoughts or preoccupation with having a specific item or with the act of shopping.
  2. Preparation: Planning where to shop, how to dress and which credit cards to use
  3. Shopping: The actual shopping experience, which often involves feelings of intense excitement and even sexual arousal
  4. Spending: Completing a purchase, which may be quickly followed by a drop in mood and feelings of guilt and remorse

Compulsive shopping almost always involves purchasing because window-shopping doesn’t produce the same euphoric effect.

People with a shopping addiction usually shop alone, even if their friends share their love of shopping. For them, it’s a private pleasure, and they may feel embarrassed about their shopping behaviors.

Shopping addiction was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the standard manual of psychiatric and psychological disorders, in 2013. Therefore, it is not officially recognized as a mental health disorder. The condition’s removal was mostly attributed to the lack of research into a shopping addiction. The move caused significant controversy among health care professionals because compulsive shopping has all the features of a process addiction.

Online Shopping Trends

Online shopping addiction statistics show a similar prevalence as in-person compulsive shopping at about 5–8%.

A few characteristics are more common in people who compulsively shop online versus in person:

  • They prefer anonymous buying without social interaction because of the anxiety and shame they feel about their shopping
  • They like the instant gratification of click-and-buy shopping
  • They find the variety and 24-hour availability of online shopping exciting
  • They respond excessively to the cues that online shopping sites use to make people feel excited to click and buy

Characteristics of Compulsive Shoppers

Shopaholics” usually share some common characteristics:

  • They impulse buy to the point where their closets are often full of unopened items, and they may develop hoarding tendencies as time passes
  • They are secretive about their shopping
  • They experience a rush of excitement and euphoria from making the purchase, rather than from owning the item
  • Stressors, loneliness, low self-esteem, and negative emotions often trigger their shopping behavior because they use shopping as a coping mechanism to numb emotional pain
  • Their purchases are followed by overwhelming guilt and remorse which may, in turn, trigger more shopping as a coping mechanism
  • They pay by credit card because it distances the euphoria of purchasing from the stress of paying

Most Common Purchases

According to a 2007 study, the most common items purchased by compulsive shoppers are, starting with the most popular:

  1. Clothing
  2. Shoes
  3. Music (compact discs)
  4. Jewelry
  5. Cosmetics
  6. Household items

Rising Debt in America

Consumer debt is a significant problem in the United States. Recently published data on average debt by age shows that Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 now collectively owe over a trillion dollars in debt. Young adults aren’t the only ones carrying a massive debt-load. Americans in their 30s owe a total of $2.9 trillion, and those in their 40s, $3.4 trillion.

Most of the debt is comprised of student loans, mortgages and car loans. However, high-interest credit card debt is also a top contributor. The average American credit card debt is $5,808 in people 35 and under, with the highest in the 45–54-year old age group at $9,096.

Consequences of Shopping Addiction

One of the most persuasive arguments for shopping addiction being a true mental health disorder is that the shopping continues or even intensifies despite obvious negative consequences, which may include:

  • Distress, such as guilt and remorse, due to the shopping
  • Significant amounts of time spent shopping
  • Social dysfunction due to the spending, especially marital discord and divorce
  • Occupational problems due to online shopping
  • Overspending and debt

Shopping Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

Compared to others, compulsive shoppers are much more likely to abuse substances (up to a 46% lifetime risk) or to have a mood disorder (up to 68% for affective disorders and 41% for anxiety). They also are three times more likely to have an eating disorder.

Statistics on Shopping Addiction Treatment

As with other addictive behaviors (such as gambling, compulsive eating or substance use), raw willpower doesn’t tend to help people stop shopping addiction. Studies show that 92% of compulsive shoppers try to curb their shopping habits without any success. Addressing the underlying problem — that the person is often using shopping as a coping mechanism — is the most effective way to curb the behavior.

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of research on the effectiveness of shopping addiction treatment. A 2016 study that pooled data from all available research into treatments of shopping addiction was unable to produce statistics for the effectiveness of treatment approaches, simply because the available data was sparse and unreliable. However, the use of cognitive behavioral therapy and medications to treat underlying depression or anxiety symptoms have been shown to be effective.

Recovery from shopping addiction is possible, but doing it by sheer willpower seldom succeeds. Anyone who believes they may have a shopping addiction and a co-occurring substance use disorder can contact The Recovery Village for more information on treatment options.

Shopping Addiction Statistics
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