You’ve probably heard of the term ‘shopaholic’ and thought it was more of a silly term to describe the woman who just can’t say no to a new pair of shoes or gets lost in the mall for hours on end. But it’s not really an addiction, right? And it’s certainly not dangerous – I mean, who doesn’t like getting a few new items every now and then? Well, the fact of the matter is, it is a type of addiction and it can spiral out of control – just like any addiction to alcohol, sex, drugs, or tobacco.

Taking a Closer Look at Shopping Addiction

It is suggested that about 10 percent of adults in Western countries experience some sort of compulsive spending disorder, leading them to utterly relinquish control over their spending behavior. It gets to the point that these individuals are addicted to buying anything – whether or not they want or need these things.

Studies also show this type of behavior is ever-increasing, with the ease of online shopping right at our fingertips. Sitting at home on a Tuesday night could turn into a dangerous spending binge with the accessibility of a laptop or smart phone. Beyond that, ads on social media are making it even easier and tempting to click and buy, without thinking. Credit cards are popping up everywhere and advanced marketing ploys are making people more and more likely to get out there and buy – whether it’s from their couch or in the store.

Who is the typical compulsive shopper?

Well, you might have guessed that the typical ‘shopaholic’ is a female – and you’re correct on that assumption. Addictive shopping is shown to occur mostly among women during late adolescence and upcoming adulthood – say, in their 20s or 30s. Studies also show that this behavior tends to decrease with age, but it is still most common among women as a whole.

People who compulsively shop are usually those who ignore their credit card bill, basically pretending it does not exist. And like any addiction, a shopping addiction can present a type of high that someone will continue to chase after. Shopaholics seek this “high” from their shopping habits, hoping that next purchase will lift their spirits and make them a better person. I know when I’m feeling down, a little shopping trip is sure to boost my mood. Or they think their next purchase will enhance and transform their appearance, boost their self-confidence, improve their reputation, and make their relationships better.

Other studies show that compulsive shoppers tend to score high on tests of extroversion and neuroticism. Extroverts – you know the type, those who are a bit louder and social – may use shopping as a way to express themselves, make a statement, or boost their social status. Neurotic people – who can be described as a bit anxious, depressive, and self-conscious – might engage in compulsive shopping to reduce their negative and upsetting feelings.

Who is most at risk?

The most at-risk person for this type of behavior is, as mentioned earlier, a woman – but specifically, an anxious woman. Several studies show that shopping addiction is closely linked with those – usually woman – who score high on measures of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Shopping can help someone escape those feelings and may first start as a coping mechanism, but then turn into something much more severe.

People who score highly on scales of conscientiousness and agreeableness, as well as those who report liking new and intellectual stimuli, are least likely to engage in compulsive shopping. These folks usually display decent self-control and don’t go overboard on shopping trips.

The seven warning signs of shopping addiction

Shopping can certainly become an addiction. Recently, researchers developed the Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale. The following items are scored based on this scale: (0) completely disagree, (1) disagree, (2) neither disagree nor agree, (3) agree, and (4), completely agree:

  1. You think about shopping and/or buying things all of the time.
  2. You shop and/or buy things in order to help change your mood.
  3. You shop and/or buy so much that it negatively affects your daily obligations, for example, school, work, and family responsibilities.
  4. You feel you must buy and/or shop more in order to obtain the same level of satisfaction as before.
  5. You have decided to shop and/or buy less, but you have not been able to do so.
  6. You feel bad if you for some reason are prevented from shopping and/or buying things.
  7. You shop and/or buy so much that it has impaired your well-being.

This scale suggests that scoring with an “agree” or “completely agree” on at least four of these even items could point to a possible shopping addiction or compulsive shopping behavior.