Understanding And Managing Compulsive Buying Disorder

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated May 14, 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.

Many people enjoy shopping—which may prompt some to wonder where the boundary is between a typical consumer experience and compulsive buying behavior. Many healthcare professionals might consider compulsive behaviors around shopping to be problematic when it negatively impacts your life, or if it seems difficult to overcome the habit in times of necessity. 

Read on to learn more about compulsive buying disorder, and alternative ways to cope—such as working with a qualified therapist.

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Is compulsive buying disorder impacting your life?

What is compulsive buying disorder (CBD)?

In 2007, the World Psychiatry journal cited that compulsive buying disorder is considered a behavioral addiction that may be related to obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is generally characterized by excessive shopping and persistent difficulty controlling buying behaviors. This can lead to distress for those who live with the condition. 

Recent information from Cleveland Clinic researchers suggests that shopping, like other impulse control behaviors, can release dopamine and endorphins, which are generally thought to be neurochemicals that can impact the brain’s reward center. This area of the brain can also be affected by many forms of addiction, mental health conditions, or diagnosed mental illnesses—which can occur alongside CBD. Unlike substance abuse, such as alcohol dependence, other behavioral addictions can include gambling addictions, internet addictions, or anything non-substance-related.

Significant psychiatric comorbidities often include axis I and axis II disorders (compulsive buying disorder is classified as an axis II disorder). This is a categorization method from the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Although mental health professionals now refer to the DSM-V instead of the DSM-IV for diagnostic criteria, the axis categorization may still be used when referring to these mood and anxiety disorders.

Regardless of the method of identification, these common comorbidities and associated disorders might include things like:

  • Bipolar disorder: An individual with bipolar disorder might make impulsive purchases and experience CBD symptoms during manic episodes

  • Anxiety disorder: Individuals with an anxiety disorder diagnosis might find themselves exhibiting CBD symptoms to alleviate symptoms of anxiety.

Additional information regarding the clinical characteristics, common comorbidities, and psychiatric treatment of CBD will be provided later in this article. 

How compulsive buying behaviors can affect your life

Consumer culture has made it easier to buy in this era compared to other previous generations, historically. The unprecedented level of convenience that many may experience can present a challenge for individuals with compulsive shopping tendencies. Much like people who engage in alcohol abuse, it can be more difficult to ignore the intrusive thoughts insisting that your problems will go away if you buy whatever item you’re considering. However, research shows that compulsive buying behaviors (or “oniomania”) can make people feel worse, possibly allowing root-cause issues to go unresolved.  

When addictive consumption escalates to a compulsion, it can be hard to focus on anything else. As a result, many compulsive shoppers may experience financial problems or notice concerns in their relationships, work experiences, or other areas of their lives. However, recognition, validation and therapy can be useful tools to address the range of symptoms and subsequent thought processes that may be associated with compulsive buying disorder. 

Understanding the symptoms of compulsive buying disorder

While the symptoms of this addictive behavior can vary by person, there are several common experiences that experts have recognized. Understanding these can help many to validate and empathize with those who live with compulsive buying disorder, possibly giving them a better understanding of how the condition can affect one’s life. 

  • Symptoms can include: Experiencing a rush of euphoria when making a purchase 

  • Difficulty controlling spending habits 

  • Spending habit developments that can harm close relationships, your financial situation or other elements of your personal life 

  • Intrusive thoughts around purchases for emotional validation 

  • Compulsions to buy things that can make it difficult to focus on anything else 

  • Frequent preoccupation with shopping or past or future purchases 

  • Rapid mood swings and emotional variation, especially around shopping or purchases 

  • Hiding purchases from accountability partners and significant others 

  • Guiltiness around purchases, whether they are needed or not

  • Extravagant purchases that may or may not be out of your price range 

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Causes of compulsive buying disorder

There are many possible causes of compulsive buying disorder. Some believe that the condition may have ties to an evolutionary imperative to gather items for survival. In humanity’s early days, the person with the most things was more likely to thrive. 

We’ve summarized additional possible causes of compulsive buying disorder below: 

  • Recent studies suggest that the risk factors for compulsive buying, particularly online shopping, have increased dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantine. 

  • Oniomania, or compulsive shopping, is generally more common among people who have materialistic tendencies. The rise of consumerism over the past few decades might lead many to view possessions as a mark of social status, and many with compulsive buying disorder may use their purchases to seek others’ approval. 

  • Compulsive buying disorder can occur in people who live with self-control disorders, low self-esteem and compulsiveness. In these cases, many people with compulsive buying disorder may be easily influenced or more affected by messaging that encourages buying. 

Other mental health issues that can co-occur with CBD

Many people with compulsive buying disorder might experience other mental health conditions affecting similar areas of the brain. These can include conditions such as: 

  • Mood disorders

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Impulse control disorders

  • Personality disorders

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders

  • Substance use disorders

  • Eating disorders 

While this is not the case in every occurrence of compulsive buying disorder, these mental health conditions can co-occur or exacerbate the experience of those living with the condition. 

Compulsive vs. impulsive shopping

There can be a difference between compulsive vs. Impulsive shopping. According to a 2023 study, shopping addictions may involve both impulsive and compulsive buying habits, which can make them harder to resolve without support. We’ve summarized key differentiating factors below:  

Compulsive shopping: Generally, purchases are planned for temporary avoidance or relief of negative feelings. 

Impulsive shopping: Typically, these purchases are unplanned items you see and choose to buy because you want them.

Compulsive shopping disorder may not occur every time a compulsive shopping purchase is made. However, the disorder can surface when buying habits begin to negatively impact one’s life. Online therapy can help those living with the disorder to reach a higher quality of life. 

How to live well with compulsive buying disorder (and related conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder)

As with many types of addiction, it can be possible to live well as you work to navigate compulsive buying disorder and related conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many may find support in building a group of healthy coping mechanisms to help you manage your stress. 

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is recommended by most as a treatment for oniomania. Regardless of how compulsive buying is treated, there are additional lifestyle changes you can make to help manage your symptoms and stress level. We’ve listed suggested changes below: 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT can be an effective method to identify and correct negative thought patterns and behaviors, such as the way you view and use money. Many people with compulsive buying disorders can reshape their thinking and behaviors that might be related to spending with the support and guidance of a licensed therapist. 

Practical coping skills

Establishing various coping skills can help you to manage stress in multiple situations, and it can help you to successfully overcome compulsive buying disorder. One of the primary characteristics of compulsive buying disorder might be to use purchases to cope with stressors, so developing healthy ways to manage stress can help you set positive spending patterns that may mitigate this behavior. You might be able to learn practical coping skills alongside individuals who also experience CBD by attending group therapy in your area. 

Financial counseling

Spending habits with compulsive buying disorder can lead to financial distress. In this case, it may be helpful to seek help from financial experts to learn sensible and realistic buying strategies. You may also learn to build a budget, as well as the habits and steps you need to successfully stick to it. Additionally, financial counseling might help you evaluate purchases before you make them to decide if you truly need the item.

Outside support for impulse control disorders 

Similar to many addictive behaviors, it can be helpful to recognize and admit that you may be experiencing unhealthy shopping habits. If you’re concerned that you have a compulsive buying disorder, you might choose to speak to your healthcare provider or therapist to learn about your treatment options. Working with a licensed therapist can help you develop positive, practical coping skills while identifying and addressing the underlying psychological patterns and compulsions that may be influencing your buying patterns. 

Some mental health professionals might suggest medication backed by clinical trials (e.g., selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs) to provide further assistance in managing CBD symptoms. 

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Is compulsive buying disorder impacting your life?

How can online therapy support those living with compulsive buying disorder?

It can be challenging to overcome addiction. If you’ve been diagnosed with CBD and struggle to manage your symptoms, you may consider online treatment through virtual therapy providers like BetterHelp. Many patients appreciate the convenience of attending therapy from home or a secondary safe place, as well as the reduced cost and shorter wait times. Additionally, it can be a helpful tool to keep one accountable for the added pressure of a possible purchase that going out can bring to those living with the disorder. 

Is online therapy effective? 

According to information from recent studies, online CBT is suggested to be as effective as in-person treatments. Researchers said patients who felt comfortable in the virtual environment generally showed increased results from online CBT treatments, offering comparable benefits compared to those who sought help in person. 

Takeaway

Understanding how compulsive buying disorder works and affects one’s behavior can be a helpful first step to managing the condition effectively. The information included in this article may help you recognize symptoms and may prompt you to speak to your healthcare provider or therapist to determine if you have CBD. Online therapy can be a helpful tool to encourage a higher quality of life in many. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.
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