What Is Compulsive Buying Disorder?

Updated August 15, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many of us have had the urge just to go shopping and treat ourselves to the finer things of life. Those great pair of heels that matches your eyes going at a discount price in the retail store, or that tennis ball and racket you have purchased in hopes that it would motivate you to take up tennis as a sport are just a few examples of our pleasurable buying.

Want to Break Free From A Compulsion to Buy Things?

When does this source of pleasure become an addiction and even be a cause of distress to us and those around us? In this article, we would be reviewing the concept of compulsive buying and how it becomes a disorder, its effects, and how to seek help and care for those affected by it.

Defining Compulsive Buying Disorder

To understand and seek the appropriate care necessary, we should know what exactly we are dealing with. According to the Encyclopedia of Neuroscience, buying and shopping may become more of a bit of a disorder when there is continual, excessive, repetitive purchasing, which can often result in mental, social, occupational, and even legal problems. The American Psychiatric Association has proposed Compulsive Buying Disorder as an impulse control disorder, behavioral addiction, or even a type of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. However, researches are still underway about its nature and treatments.

Compulsive Buying Disorder has been called many names; Compulsive shopping, Buying Disorder, Compulsive spending, Shopaholism, Oniomania. They are distinct, and not all connote the full extent of Compulsive Buying Disorder. While Oniomania and Buying disorder may be synonymous with Compulsive Buying Disorder, Compulsive shopping, and Compulsive spending are different behaviors. As one may shop without purchase and in the same vein, one may buy without shopping. One may spend but not necessarily on shopping; hope we have not lost you on that explanation?

In summary, Compulsive Buying Disorder is excessive or obsessive buying and shopping behavior, which causes distress to the affected and those around them.

What Makes You A Compulsive Buyer?

Shopping is an everyday activity such as drinking, dancing, and eating. So, it could be pretty difficult to isolate or pinpoint when such action is inching on the edge of addiction. Luckily, experts in psychology and psychiatry have provided us with features that could help in recognizing its pattern and allow for treatment to commence as soon as possible. The features of Compulsive Buying Disorder are

  • Irresistible Buying: Sometimes, we go shopping and even go way above our budget. This is quite common, yet it is not classified as a feature of compulsive buying at that point. For it to be considered, it requires a higher frequency. The individual in question is so engrossed, like a preoccupation with buying or shopping, initial anxiety to fulfill the need to purchase items, and difficulty repressing the urge to purchase. It is an overpowering urge to buy and shop. The person would use up hours searching for the thing to buy and spend on weekly or even daily.
  • Uncontrollable Buying: As mentioned earlier, if you are affected by the above, there is a higher chance that you may eventually start buying things you do not need. After purchasing these items that they could initially not resist, most are discarding them after being purchased. Again, the frequency with which these happens comes into play once more. A good number of people have been guilty of buying things they do not need at one time or the other, that does not mean that they have Compulsive Buying Disorder.
  • Affects quality of Life: For it to be termed a buying disorder, it must have some negative consequences in different domains of the individual’s life. Often, those with compulsive buying tend to run into financial troubles like debt, poor credit history, and bankruptcy. Legal problems like embezzlement, stealing are known consequences of buying disorder. Other adverse effects are loss of a job, loss of a marriage, strains in relationships, anxiety, depression, feeling of a loss of control over one’s life, which could be a direct or indirect result of compulsive buying disorder.

It is essential that the episodes of compulsive buying cannot be explained by any other medical condition and did not occur in any period of mania. It, however, tends to coexist in individuals who have a history of substance overuse, eating disorder, anxiety, and mood disorders.

So, if you find out that you or your loved one tick all the boxes above, now is not the time to fret. BetterHelp not only do provide a means to educate, but also provide help for those who seek it. It is just in the click of your finger. But before you do that, please hold on as we provide you more reliable information on how to combat Compulsive Buying Disorder.

Understanding Compulsive Buying Disorder

While some people could be hearing this term for the first time, it is a reality for some others, and research published by Front Psychiatry in 2011 found that 6% of the adult population of the United States of America is said to be affected with compulsive buying. This has been largely influenced by the accessibility to online shopping, materialism, industrialization, and the relative ease in which consumers can purchase their items. Just with a swipe of your credit card, you can buy what you want these days, no bottlenecks, no stress.

More women than men, according to some clinical surveys, have been shown to be affected and tend to be more in treatment-seeking centers. However, some population-based studies have not found any significant gender difference in its prevalence, as most women acknowledge their compulsive shopping habits than men. Men who are compulsive buyers tend to refer to themselves as collectors or hoarders.

Irrespective of socioeconomic status, Compulsive Buying Disorder tends to affect the poor and rich alike, but the level of economic, personal, social, and mental hardship may differ from one individual to another. It commonly manifests in persons in their early 20s, and some texts say from the second to the fourth decade of life.

There are a variety of reasons why people shop. Our world today makes shopping almost too easy, and we see phrases like, ‘Shop till you drop’, ‘Unhappy, buy those jeans today’, being used in various marketing of those products to get us to purchase them. It is common that we would most people, in search of the happiness or pleasure these items promise, tend to keep purchasing them just because of the satisfaction they bring.

The cause of compulsive buying is multifactorial and could be linked to a host of factors. Some of them include:

  • Perfectionism trait- For some that have this trait, they tend to spend hours shopping, searching for the perfect item that they have set their sights on, going to any lengths to purchase, and derive pleasure when they do. After which they go after another item, and the cycle is repeated.
  • Low self-esteem: The value and the materials they possess are directly linked to self-worth, which ultimately translates to the more they own, the better they feel about themselves. However, the pleasure got from this end at the purchase, and they are back to searching for another item again.
  • Loneliness- This strong feeling of emptiness can precipitate one to fill the void with the pleasure that shopping and buying could bring, albeit temporarily.
  • Depression- A feeling of overwhelming sadness that is persistent. It is understandable that some of those who are depressed may try to make themselves feel better, and compulsive shopping may just be the go-to for them.

Other factors which could explain the emergence of compulsive buying disorder include:

  • Impulsivity and low self-control
  • Emotional deprivation as a child
  • Stress
  • Experience of a loss of a loved one or a relationship.
  • Approval seeking behavior
  • Existing psychiatric conditions such as anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

It is important to know that with the above, the individual’s goal is immediate happiness and satisfaction when they purchase. Commonly associated with the causes are emotions and certain behavioral adaptations to this unhealthy lifestyle that tends to make it more difficult to be discovered on time and treated. Some of them include:

  • Lying about the extent of goods purchased to friends and family
  • A sense of loss of control over one’s life due to the extensive spending habits
  • Feeling a sense of euphoria while buying
  • Having a strong sense of guilt about having gone shopping, especially when promises against it, are made to a loved one.
  • Having that high over getting away with doing something forbidden, in this case, it is shopping.

Treating Compulsive Buying Disorder

It is not always easy to acknowledge that one has a problem and even be willing to go through the appropriate steps towards seeking help, so that alone is a huge step and deserves all the congratulations. That is the first step to healing and getting better, which the other psychopharmacological therapies hinge on.

Want to Break Free From A Compulsion to Buy Things?

  • Seek Expert Help- A professional therapist is the best to give adequate and well-informed care as regards to the entirety of Compulsive Buying Disorder. Diagnosing yourself and staying home wallowing in guilt won’t make it go away, who knows, your diagnoses might have been wrong.
  • A Good Support System- No man is an island, and with that, in fighting this battle, you are going to need help. Self-reliance, in this case, maybe detrimental to achieving the effectiveness of the cure. Try enrolling with a support group that caters to Compulsive Buying Disorders. If you are not comfortable, go with a trusted friend.
  • Learning Better Shopping Habits- To add more to the expert help been sought, more self-control needs to be exercised. Start small, have a list of items you want to buy before you go shopping. Try to close down your shopping sites, a hard choice it may seem at that moment, but a crucial one in the road to discovery. Unlinking your credit card from these sites would also be a great step to take.
  • Channeling Your Emotions And Learning Healthy Coping Mechanisms- It is important for you to identify and manage your response to your varying emotional state. If you are angry or you feel lonely, which could be a form of distress that could trigger compulsive buying, proper and healthier methods of tolerating these emotions need to be thought, usually in therapy sessions, helping with the general recovery process.
  • Compliance With Drugs And Medications If You Have Other Psychiatric Condition – Some psychiatric conditions such as Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can coexist with compulsive buying disorder and even worsen its prognosis. People who have been diagnosed with having conditions like those or other mental health conditions and are now battling compulsive buying should ensure they are medication and therapy compliant.
  • Stress Management: Unlearning unhealthy coping mechanisms with the aid of a therapist in favor of healthier ones to deal with compulsive buying is important on the road to recovery.
  • Behavioral Therapy- Impulsivity and poor impulse control are at the forefront of this condition. Practicing alternative ways to respond to these impulses with the help of a therapist boost self-control and help in managing the impulses better.

Compulsive Buying Disorder is a new but prevalent condition that is slowly creeping into our society. It spread out nature has been linked to the relative ease of consumerism, especially in developed countries, thanks to online shopping. Individuals with buying disorders often get pleasure from purchase with distress personally and functionally.

You can learn more about Compulsive Buying Disorder and possible ways to identify its symptoms early by checking out other articles on the subject or related topics. Should you have questions or clarifications on the subject or other related subjects, you can also schedule an appointment with competent mental health professionals at BetterHelp.

For additional help & support with your concerns

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started