What Is Compulsive Buying Disorder?

Updated October 21, 2020

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.

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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 abuse, 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.

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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.

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  • 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.

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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.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)

  1. Can shopping be an addiction?

Just like drinking addiction, shopping can be an addiction, and it is quite a serious behavioral disorder. It is called Compulsive Buying Disorder. Individuals with this condition tend to have irresistible and uncontrollable urges to buy, which eventually goes on to be a source of distress to themselves and those around them. It is a progressive and chronic disorder, and most people affected may not notice its effect on time, until they are deep in debt or have been neglected by a loved due to its negative effects.

  1. What makes one a compulsive buyer?

First, compulsive buyers are addicted to shopping and buying. Their major source of thrill is from getting the item to purchase and then buying it.

Secondly, do you find yourself in a constant state of anticipation for your next buy that you track of time and focus on whatever job you have at hand? This is called preoccupation with shopping, and most people that are diagnosed with compulsive buying disorder have it.

Thirdly, the stages or patterns to compulsive buying. So far, there are four of them.

  • Stage 1- commonly called anticipation. The urge to shop start and focus and thoughts shift to purchasing an item or the shopping trip itself.
  • Stage 2- commonly referred to as preparation. In this stage, the individual lays the groundwork that would help smoothen the shopping. It involves making lists, exploring potential shopping sites or destinations, looking up items to buy, and talking about where to go shopping or what is on sale.
  • Stage 3- This is where the main shopping happens. All the fuss about stage 1 and 2 goes down here. The individual gets to experience the thrill of buying, be it online or in person.
  • Stage 4- The anticlimactic end of shopping, the final act which is spending. The individual is sad the shopping experience is over. They may or may not feel shame or guilt over the amount spent.
  1. How long does it take for compulsive buying disorder to manifest?

It is a creeping condition that is progressive as well as detrimental if left untreated. If you feel at risk or are concerned about a loved one is susceptible to this condition, try to find out the following from them:

  • Do they feel anxious when you/they do not go shopping?
  • Does buying relief you/them?
  • Do you/they sometimes buy things they cannot afford?
  • Once you/they get paid, do you/they spend their money on shopping?
  • Do you/they have a lot of unsettled debts?
  • Is your/their credit card score barely pulling through?
  • Have you/they ever overdrawn their account buying things they do not need only to be discarded soon after purchase?
  • Do you/they feel guilty or feel judged after you buy something?
  • Do you think people would judge you if they knew how much you spend on shopping?

Answering yes to most of the questions posed above are notable warning bells, which could mean that the individual is at risk for compulsive buying disorder.

  1. Can people with low income have compulsive buying disorder?

They can be compulsive buyers too. A compulsive buyer does not necessarily have to buy expensive items. They could buy at places where prices are lower or on sale.

  1. Is a hoarder a compulsive shopper?

For those affected with compulsive buying, some may purchase enough items that could easily earn them the title ‘hoarder’.  According to the journal of anxiety disorders, 61 percent of hoarders meet the requirement for compulsive buying disorder. However, subtle differences do exist between a compulsive buyer and a hoarder.

The main focus of pleasure for a compulsive buyer is in purchasing, while for a hoarder, it is in the acquisition.  Most compulsive buyers have an underlying emotional or psychological issue, which drives them to seek the euphoria that buying brings usually, they have no emotional attachment to the item being purchased; whilst for a hoarder, they tend to go for items that have had some sentimental value to them. Compulsive buyers tend to either flaunt, hide, or even burn their purchase, but a hoarder accumulates these items until there is little to no space in their home.

  1. Are women the most at risk for compulsive buying?

Although some studies show women are more compulsive shoppers than men, this does not say that only women are compulsive buyers. More recent studies have even found that the ratio of female to male compulsive buyers is slightly similar. Most men refer to themselves as collectors rather than those who are addicted to shopping, but most people seeking treatment for this condition are women.

Even more so, are other risk factors of compulsive buying, which are not gender-specific, such as approval-seeking behavior, personality disorders, and so on.

  1. If I do not experience any financial difficulty, but I am addicted to shopping, does that still make me a compulsive buyer?

The negative effects of compulsive buying go beyond financial constraints. There are a host of complications and consequences that could arise from shopping addiction. Some of them include:

  • Psychological- Anxiety, Emotional distress, guilt, and shame, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, personality disorders.
  • Social problem- Strained family relationship, divorce, or separation from spouse, conflict with friends, sanctions at a place of work due to spending time shopping instead of working.
  • Legal Problems- Stealing, criminal record, gambling.
  1. Can compulsive shoppers stop shopping on their own?

Despite the negative effect, both short term and long term, Compulsive buyers cannot stop on their own. That is why for therapy and treatment to be effective, they would need a multidimensional approach. Those who could manage to stop their shopping habits from sheer force of will power alone do not have compulsive buying disorder.

Compulsive buying is more than just buying a lot of clothes, shoes, gadgets; it is an addiction that incorporates obsessive-compulsive elements, poor impulse control, and dysfunctional stress management with underlying psychological issues. Hence, asking the individual to stop on their own without seeking the advice and expertise of professionals could be unfair and rarely successful on their road to recovery.

With the help of the professionals, support groups, family and peers, and the individual in question, compulsive buying can be adequately managed and treated.


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