What Is Shopping Addiction? Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and More

What Is Shopping Addiction? Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and More

There’s not a single known cause of shopping addiction, but there may be several contributing factors.

While the developers of the DSM-5 have chosen not to include shopping addiction, the 2014 review notes that some of the symptoms of craving and withdrawal some people experience could be similar to other addictions. “Shopping can act as a distraction from unpleasant emotions,” explains Schiff. She adds that addiction involves both physical and psychological factors. Physically, the brain chemicals released during shopping can give people a “high,” she explains, while psychologically, people may shop for things to help them cope with stress or feel a sense of control.

“Stress and anxiety are the most significant underlying causes of shopping addiction,” adds Sehat. Many people turn to gratifying behaviors as coping mechanisms, she says. “The endorphins released make the individual feel happy and less stressed.”

The aforementioned 2021 statement from the APA suggested that there’s evidence that social isolation and stress may increase the risk of developing a shopping addiction. These dynamics could have been at play while many people spent more time at home, carrying extra stressors, and in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic — and could have plausibly caused an increase in these types of behaviors. The authors of the paper noted, however, that this is just a theory, and currently there’s no hard evidence to say one way or the other that this happened.

Certain environmental risk factors have also been found to put people at a higher risk of developing shopping addiction. For example, having a higher income or having credit cards may make compulsive buying more accessible. Changes in your personal environment, such as a divorce, or moving away from your loved ones, could also influence emotionally driven compulsive buying, as some people report shopping to alleviate feelings of loneliness, helplessness, or guilt.

The 2012 review has also suggested that shopping addiction may coincide with mental health conditions involving impulsivity and compulsiveness, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), personality disorders, anxiety disorders, and binge-eating disorder. It may also be linked with affective disorders, such as depression.

Other research noted that shopping addiction tends to run in families, particularly families living with mood, anxiety, or substance use disorders.

But having any of the above mental health conditions doesn’t mean you will automatically develop a shopping addiction, and vice-versa.