What is compulsive shopping?

As with all behavioural addictions, compulsive shopping differs from heavy shopping in that it sits on the other side of a thin grey line in terms of ‘how much is too much?’. As with all addictions, though, the easier diagnostic element has to do with the powerlessness and resultant unmanageability that compulsive shoppers display. Compulsive shopping has been linked to social, psychological and financial problems. Some studies have linked compulsive shopping to an increased risk of suicide as debt increases and the shame of attempting to hide the problem from others increases.

Men are almost as likely as women to be compulsive shoppers. The problem of compulsive shopping seems to begin during the teens or early 20s. Men tend to focus more on gadgets, technical items, CDs, tools, books and cameras and can become compulsive collectors and addicted to auctions.

Here’s a checklist of behaviours that may indicate that you are a compulsive shopper:

  • Lying to yourself about how much you have spent.
  • Always needing to buy the best before you can feel good about yourself: for example, you may feel you must have designer clothes rather than unbranded.
  • Often spending online, because somehow that doesn’t seem real.
  • Spending in secret may involve not telling your partner for months on end.
  • Failing to acknowledge debt but nevertheless continuing to overspend.
  • Hiding goods that you have bought.
  • Paying all the bill – in a restaurant, for example – to show off or gain approval.
  • The amount of money spent causes arguments.
  • When you buy in a shop, the high you initially feel soon fades and you need to spend again.

Are your spending habits out of control?

Do you experience any of the following?

  • Spending more than your budget on a regular basis.
  • Always looking for the next credit card you can have.
  • Feeling sweating and a fast heart rate when bills come.
  • Feeling frightened to open bank statements.
  • Not thinking through consequences of spending, preferring to convince yourself that somehow it will be all right.
  • Asking friends and family for money and then avoiding them because you can’t pay it back.
  • Taking out more loans regardless of high-interest rates to help with previous ones.
  • Feeling of dread when it’s necessary to apply for a credit rating.
  • Fantasising that the big break will come and soon you’ll no longer be in this mess.
  • Feeling grown-up when you spend.
  • Feeling that spending doesn’t matter because someone else will take care of your finances for you.
  • Feeling inordinately uncomfortable in a normal discussion about money.
  • Feeling guilty and ashamed after shopping.

Behaviour patterns of shopaholics

Here is a list of the behavioural patterns of shopaholics. This is not a diagnostic list of criteria, but if you tick a fair number of these boxes then you might have a problem.

  • Do you have stacks of books you never read, piles of clothing you haven’t worn, or heaps of music CDs you haven’t played?
  • Do you go shopping whenever you are feeling bad, angry, or frustrated?
  • Has your shopping habits created problems in your life, such as causing you to worry about how you will pay your bills?
  • Do you hide from your friends and family how much you spend?
  • When you are shopping, do you feel like you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing?
  • Has your shopping habits caused conflicts between you and your spouse, a relative or a friend?
  • Do you make purchases with your credit card that you can’t pay for with cash?
  • When you shop, do you have mixed feelings of euphoria and anxiety?
  • After returning from shopping, do you feel guilty, regretful, or embarrassed?
  • Do you feel ‘lost’ without credit cards?
  • Are you always thinking about money, how much or little you have, and go shopping again?
  • Have you tried to change and found you couldn’t?
  • Do you hide some of your purchases from others?
  • Do you have to spend a lot of time figuring out how you will pay your shopping bills?
  • Do you buy things you don’t need and can’t afford?
  • Would you be better off if you shopped less?
  • Do you buy several books, blouses, or pairs of shoes at a time?
  • Do you spend money you expect to receive before you receive it?


How do I get help for myself or my loved one?

The first step in getting help is finding out whether you have a problem. A trained clinical psychologist can effectively perform a professional assessment, which will identify whether you have any problem areas, and will recommend the treatment most appropriate for you if necessary.

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