Recognizing And Managing Online Shopping Addiction

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated May 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Thanks to the ubiquity of mobile phones and the explosion of the e-commerce sales market, online shopping has become easier than ever—especially since the pandemic. For some, buying things from online stores represents nothing more than a convenient way to get the items they need. For others, however, online shopping habits can become compulsive and eventually lead to negative consequences. If you consistently struggle to use your money wisely, feel compelled to buy things in order to feel good, or find that your shopping habits are creating problems in other areas of your life, you may be experiencing a shopping addiction. Read on to learn more about identifying and managing an online shopping addiction in particular.

Do you need help treating an online shopping addiction?

What is an online shopping addiction?

According to a paper in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, an online shopping addiction (OSA), or oniomania, is classified as an impulse control issue. These are characterized by two features: “the inability to resist an impulse, drive or temptation even if it is harmful to the individual” and “a period of tension or arousal prior to the act, relief during the act and regret or guilt after the act”. When the impulse in question is buying things online, a person may be experiencing an online shopping addiction. 

OSA may also be known as “compulsive online shopping”, “impulsive purchasing”, “compulsive consumption”, or “impulsive spending patterns”. Compulsive shoppers often buy items to impress others, and they may have a special interest in designer brands for their perceived representation of high status. Compulsive shopping is commonly associated with high levels of debt, feelings of frustration, shame, and isolation, relationship issues, and sometimes mental health issues like low self-esteem, depression, and/or anxiety.

Online shopping addiction is not currently recognized as a mental health disorder according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), but it can still cause significant problems in a person’s life, and a person with an OSA can benefit from professional attention.

Why online shopping?

Online shopping in particular may offer unique opportunities for a dopamine boost as compared to shopping in-person at brick-and-mortar stores, including both when the item is purchased and when the package arrives. With options like next-day shipping, these two events can now happen within 24 hours or less of each other, potentially triggering the compulsion to make another purchase even more frequently. Furthermore, the online shopping process is often simple and easy, as a person can make purchases from a phone, computer, or tablet 24/7/365 from any location. This makes the distance between desire and purchase much smaller compared to traditional retail sales situations, giving someone less time to consider the repercussions.  A recent study also reports that risk factors for an OSA have increased since the pandemic. These factors, in addition to shopping cues intentionally designed to increase online purchasing, may cause more consumers to become addicted to online shopping.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh

Signs of an online shopping addiction

Experiencing a few or more of the signs below may indicate an online shopping addiction:

  • Feeling euphoric when buying something or receiving a package
  • The inability to control or stop online shopping habits
  • Negative impacts on relationships, work, and/or finances as a result of online shopping
  • Concern from family or friends about your shopping habit
  • Thinking about shopping even when you’re not doing it 
  • Feeling moody, angry, or sad when unable to shop online for any reason
  • Turning to online shopping for comfort when stressed or sad (sometimes called “retail therapy”)
  • Hiding an online shopping habit from others 
  • Feeling guilty about shopping
  • Finding solace with other “shopping addicts” (or other labels that diminish the issue) as a way to justify behavior
  • Using shopping to take the place of other activities
  • An inability to ignore online ads related to certain products
  • Buying things you don’t need or without planning, sometimes referred to as “impulse buying” 

As with other types of addictions, online shopping can become a problem when it’s used as an unhealthy way to cope with stressors. A simple example can help illustrate the difference. An individual who engages in everyday non-problematic shopping will typically only buy items they need and will use, though they may occasionally splurge for expensive or unnecessary items. They may enjoy window shopping or browsing, yet don’t feel compelled to buy things. Because of this healthy relationship with shopping, their purchases generally do not lead to financial distress. An individual who is addicted to online shopping, however, will typically often purchase items they don’t need and likely won’t use. Much of their shopping is driven by compulsive thoughts and/or a need to cope with difficult emotions. They may often spend money they don’t have, purchasing items on credit and creating financial problems later on.

Causes of an online shopping addiction

An exact cause for oniomania has yet to be identified, but researchers believe it to be linked to multiple key factors—as many addictions are. Three key factors that may cause an OSA include:

  • Materialistic tendencies. Consumerism can often lead to viewing possessions as a mark of social status, and people with an OSA may use purchases to seek approval from others. 
  • Certain personality traits or issues. Shopping addictions often occur in people with low self-esteem and/or issues with self-control, impulsivity, compulsiveness, and other aspects of their emotional health. 
  • High advertising consumption. Individuals who are more easily influenced by advertising and marketing messages than others and/or simply consume more of them may be at risk for developing an OSA. The consumerist idea that buying things will give you instant gratification and make you happy tends to resonate with people who have issues with compulsive spending, making them even more tempted to buy. 

According to a 2016 study, many people with an OSA will experience other mental health conditions as well, such as mood or anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), substance use disorders, impulse control disorders, eating disorders, or personality disorders.

Do you need help treating an online shopping addiction?

Managing an online shopping addiction

Again, although online shopping addiction is not currently listed as a mental health disorder according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, those experiencing issues with this behavior may still benefit from seeking professional treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one treatment option. This modality focuses on identifying and correcting flawed thought patterns that lead to distress and/or compulsive behaviors. A CBT therapist can help someone with an OSA identify triggers, change the way they think about shopping, and develop healthier coping mechanisms for difficult emotions or life challenges. Financial counseling is another method of support that an individual with an OSA may seek as well. A financial expert may be able to provide a few tips relating to healthy spending habits, assist you in setting and sticking to a budget, and show you how to evaluate purchases before buying.

Seeking therapy for an online shopping addiction

If you’re interested in connecting with a mental health professional for help managing issues related to an online shopping problem, there is both in-person and virtual support available. For those who are experiencing financial difficulties due to an online shopping addiction or other reasons, online therapy is often a more cost-effective option and may be worth considering. With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can speak with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from anywhere you have an internet connection. Since research suggests that online CBT in particular can be an effective, viable alternative to in-person sessions, you can typically choose whichever format works best for you.


Although it’s not officially classified as a mental illness according to the DSM-5, compulsive online spending can still negatively impact a person’s life. Therapy is one way that someone with an online shopping addiction can seek help for a behavior like this.
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