Shopping Addiction: When Casual Shopping Becomes a Compulsion

There is no doubt about it — Americans love to shop. Whether it's a quick trip to the mall or a shopping spree on Fifth Avenue.

But, when does casual shopping become a compulsive disorder?

"I think to be a compulsive shopper you have to have an urge to do it against your better judgment," said Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist in private practice and Fox News contributor. "There has to be some financial consequences to it."

According to a recent study from the Stanford University School of Medicine, overshopping, more commonly referred to as "shopaholism" is a real disorder that affects an estimated 17 million Americans. And if you think women are the majority — you're wrong. The study found that men and women suffer from the disorder equally.

As with other addictions, "shopaholism" can do a real number on a person's life — from destroying their finances to destroying relationships.

"They feel guilty about what they've done," said Ablow. "They lie to others just like an addict or an alcoholic would lie to family members about the use of a substance and they spend a lot of time thinking about shopping and how they will feel when they get it."

So, what causes someone to compulsively shop?

"The root cause of all addictions is to anesthetize one self from inner pain," said Ablow. "People who fall victim to shopping are using it like a drug because they are feeling impoverished emotionally or as though they don't have enough love, confidence or self-esteem."

Signs of Addiction

If you're concerned a family member or friend may be a shopping addict, Ablow said there are several tell tale signs to look for.

— People who express excitement about their purchases or great anxiety

— Anyone who is juggling finances to try to cover expenses that seem like needless ones

— History is our best guide: People who have gotten into trouble with their credit cards in the past but can't stop using them

— Someone that seems in great conflict with family members or friends

— If a person is making big purchases to feel wealthy or well-liked

— Someone who lies about their purchases or hides them


"I'm a big proponent of psychotherapy," said Ablow. "There are also a lot of groups for compulsive spenders... 12 step groups can be very helpful."

One of those groups is, which covers both shopping and shoplifting addiction. Addicts can also try

Both websites provide support and counseling, as well as a list of contact numbers, so someone can find a meeting in their area.

Once a person has recognized they have a problem — there are some basic changes they can make, according to

Making Changes

- Reduce temptations

- Cut up those credit cards, close charge accounts and throw away credit card offers

- Make lists before going to the store and buy what you need only

- Wait so many hours before purchase

- Ask yourself if you need something or do you just want it?

- Develop other ways to handle emotions

- Find other fun ways to spend your time

- Learn to ride through urges