Getting Help for and Recovering From a Shopping Addiction

ByDanielle Kiser

Updated: July 3, 2023

ByDanielle Kiser

Updated: July 3, 2023

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Every day we see advertising for great deals, new products and services that will improve our lives. While we all give in to these temptations and buy more than we should sometimes, there are some whose shopping goes beyond the occasional impulse buy. Their shopping habits, left unchecked, morph into a shopping addiction.

When shopping becomes an addiction, the buyer can’t resist the temptation to shop and shops compulsively. Labeling someone as a shopaholic may be done in jest, but for more than 16 million Americans, a compulsive buying disorder wreaks havoc on their finances and relationships. It’s essential to recognize the signs of a shopping addiction and find the help available to recover.


What Is a Shopping Addiction?


What Are the Signs of a Shopping Addiction?


What are the Effects of a Shopping Addiction?


The Cycle of Compulsive Shopping

The goal for stopping compulsive buying is to stop the cycle. For many shopping addicts, the experience is a roller coast of highs and lows that then repeats itself. Once in this cycle, it’s hard to stop.


Compulsive Spending: Online vs. In-Person Shopping

With the advent of technology and online shopping, there were concerns about an increase in compulsive spending. However, studies have not shown a clear correlation between the two so far. The percentage of Americans with a compulsive buying disorder remains around 8%.

Researchers found some compulsive buyers prefer online shopping. They still get the “buyers high” while finding added enjoyment online because it allows for:

  • Avoiding social interaction: Buying online allows someone to buy anonymously with fewer people to witness their purchase. This lessens the guilt a compulsive buyer feels later.
  • Buying availability: Online shopping provides greater product variety and options, giving shopping addicts a greater sense of accomplishment when they purchase.

Recognizing a Compulsive Spending and Shopping Addiction


Is Your Spending a Problem? Take the Quiz

If you think your spending could be a problem, here are questions to ask yourself to determine if you might have a spending addiction.

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  1. Do you shop when you feel angry or disappointed?
  2. Has overspending created financial problems in your life?
  3. Do you have conflicts with loved ones about your need to shop?
  4. While shopping, do you feel euphoric rushes or anxiety?
  5. After shopping, do you feel like you did something wild or dangerous?
  6. Do you feel guilty or embarrassed about your purchases?
  7. Do you frequently buy things that you never use or wear?
  8. Do you think about money a lot of the time?
  9. Have you lied about your finances to friends, family or creditors?
  10. Do you hide your purchases and bills from friends or family?
  11. Do you think about shopping while you’re doing something else?
  12. Do you frequently borrow money from friends and family without repayment?
  13. While shopping, do you tend to buy more items or spend more money than you planned on?
  14. Have you vowed to shop less but failed to do so?
  15. Have you shopped in order to forget about a personal problem?
  16. Do you spend a lot of time thinking about or planning shopping trips?
  • Proceed to Purchase (0–3 points) While you like your bargains, you probably know when to stop shopping. Work on limiting your impulse buys, but you’re at a low risk of being labeled a shopaholic.
  • Budget Buster (4–7 points) You may have busted your budget one too many times, or maybe you’re not following a budget at all. Time to make a budget and then stick to it. You may shop without planning your purchases, but you probably don’t have a spending addiction.
  • Credit Card Chop (8–11 points) Living on credit is tough and will eventually catch up to you. It might be time to cut up the credit cards, stop your spending cycle and reduce your debt. Take steps to start paying off that debt. Consider talking to a qualified mental health professional about your shopping habits.
  • Seek Spending Help (12–plus points) It’s time to ask for help. Your shopping habit is taking a toll on your life, but there is support available. With help, you can stop your spending addiction and improve your financial well-being. Start with your doctor to find a counselor to help you address your buying habits and the emotions associated with spending.

Note: This is not a scientific quiz and should not replace medical advice. If you are concerned about your shopping and spending habits, please seek help from a certified mental health care professional.

How Is a Spending Addiction Related to Other Addictions and Compulsive Behaviors?


What Help Is Available for a Spending Addiction?


Where Can You Find Help and Treatment Options?


Advice From an Expert on Beating a Spending Addiction

If you believe you have a spending addiction, it’s important to get personalized help. We reached out to Terrence Shulman, the founder of The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending and Hoarding.

About the Expert: Terrence Shulman is a Metro-Detroit area addictions therapist and founder and director of The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending and Hoarding. He counsels clients in-person and remotely. He authored the book “Bought Out and $pent! Recovery from Compulsive $hopping and $pending.”

I like to compare it to compulsive eating in that we need to eat to live, and we need to spend and manage money. Most people overeat and overshop on occasion, but when it becomes more chronic, progressive and out of control, that's when it becomes a problem and, often, an addiction.

There are many signs of trouble and some of the more common ones include:

  • Having debt with the inability to get out of debt
  • Getting out of debt but getting back into debt
  • Relationship problems (arguments, lying about one’s shopping or hiding it)
  • Lost time, energy and focus
  • Using shopping/spending as a primary stress/life coping strategy, which just leads to more problems

Some research is being conducted, and more needs to be done, but yes, I believe this is true. Most of my clients are what we call “dual diagnosis,” meaning they have an addictive-compulsive disorder (such as compulsive stealing, buying, hoarding or other addictions) and either depression, anxiety, bipolar, ADHD or OCD. These are some of the more common diagnoses with CBD.

I think we need a bit more research into questions around demographics. I am aware that the 2006 Stanford study on CBD estimated that 6.5% of American women met the criteria for CBD, and 5.5% of American men did as well (about 6% of the U.S. population total). I’d say the numbers are likely close to equal as more people are getting addicted to online shopping (including most men with this problem).

I do think that women, in general, may be more interested in and doing a bit more shopping due to both biological and social influences. The stereotype of most women as “shopaholics” is false, as is the stereotype that most “shopaholics” are women. Some other false stereotypes about “shopaholics” is that:

  • They’re just shallow, superficial or materialistic
  • They’re selfish and immature
  • They’re simply poor money managers
  • They should just be able to stop

I always suggest to people who think they or their loved ones may have this problem that they get educated about this problem as a real common, insidious and powerful one. Here are some steps to take:

  • Read books on this topic
  • Work with a therapist who at least specializes in addiction treatment but, preferably, one who specializes in working with this disorder
  • Attend support groups (in person, phone or by email) such as Debtors Anonymous or Spenders Anonymous
  • Come clean with family and friends and educate them about this disorder
  • Get a psychiatric evaluation for medication

Learning to Keep Spending Under Control


Additional Resources

There are numerous resources available to help you begin your compulsive shopping recovery. It’s important to stop the cycle of compulsive buying as soon as possible before it destroys relationships or leaves you in bankruptcy.

  • ABCD: Compulsive spending is a behavioral disorder and is best treated with therapy. The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies can help you find you a local therapist.
  • Debtors Anonymous: This support group uses a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. It offers local meetings and resources to offer hope for people whose debt is causing problems in their lives and those around them.
  • NFCC The National Foundation for Credit Counseling is a nonprofit organization that offers free credit counseling. They can help create a strategy for reducing your debt and controlling your spending.
  • SAMHSA: The Substance Abuse and Mental health Services Administration offers a hotline for those facing mental and/or substance use disorders. The hotline will provide referrals to local treatment centers and support groups. It can also offer guidance on options if you do not have health insurance.
  • ShopaholicNoMore: Dr. April Benson is a psychologist who specializes in compulsive spending. She offers multiple online therapy programs to help stop the cycle of overspending.
  • Shopaholics Anonymous: Run by Terry Shulman, this website provides information and resources for those looking for treatment for compulsive theft, spending and hoarding.
  • Spenders Anonymous: This community is based on a 12-step program and offers meetings and phone calls for support for all those battling a spending addiction.

About Danielle Kiser

Danielle Kiser headshot

Danielle Kiser is a freelance writer, storyteller and news junkie. She is passionate about informing and inspiring audiences to improve their lives and their communities. As a former TV news producer, she focuses on sharing relevant and factual stories that stimulate personal growth and knowledge. Danielle lives in Michigan with her husband as well as her sidekick, a greyhound named Oreo.