ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Retail Therapy or Shopping Addiction?

Updated on March 22, 2013

The darker side of retail therapy

Have you seen the ITV series Mr Selfridge? If not, it's is a British period drama about Harry Gordon Selfridge, who founded the famous London department store Selfridges still found on Oxford Street today.

The program is loosely based on real life and tells the tale of Mr Selfridge, a businessman from Chicago who brought the concept of shopping to early 20th Century London. Now a hundred years later, venturing out on a Saturday afternoon to buy things is considered a major pastime. Most people do not think twice about indulging in a little retail therapy every now and then.

Whilst shopping can be a pleasurable activity for some, for others it has a darker side. Psychologists, doctors and addiction experts now believe that one in ten people suffer from oniomania, an uncontrollable, compulsive desire to buy things. Shopping addiction may manifest itself in several ways.

Some possible symptoms of shopping addiction:

  • Buying excessive numbers of clothes, trinkets, books, etc., usually over a person's means
  • Having unworn items of clothing with the labels still on hanging in the wardrobe
  • Hiding purchased goods or keeping credit card bills a secret from family, friends or a partner
  • Feeling anxiety or suffering from sleepless nights because of money worries, excessive spending or debt
  • Appearing to go from one financial crisis to another
  • Using credit cards impulsively and self-destructively, being trapped in a downward spiralling debt cycle
  • Shopping to “lift mood” when sad, unhappy or angry and shopping to “celebrate” when something has gone well
  • Shopping impulsively
  • Not being clear about financial due dates, terms and conditions, like insurance payments, load and credit card interest rates, etc.
  • Frequently juggling bills and taking risks with important things like health (forgoing dentists visits in order to buy clothes) or legal matters (driving without car insurance because money has been spent shopping)
  • Not planning for retirement or savings
  • Frequent arguments with family, flatmates, colleagues or partners about use of money
  • Self-confessed financial management issues like "money burns a hole in my pocket" or "I'm not good with money"

How does shopping addiction "work"?

Shopping addiction is debatably about the use of money as a "drug". When a compulsive shopper has money, they use it to buy items. The transaction gives a feeling of elation, like getting "a fix" or being "high". Presumably this is because the act of purchasing triggers a chemical reaction in the brain and the body and this makes the shopper feel good, albeit temporarily. After a spending spree, the initial euphoria quickly dies. A realisation that the “drug” (money) has run out usually follows, accompanied by feelings of anxiety, depression and shame. This cycle repeats itself over and over again, becoming worse each time.

Psychological, financial and legal consequences

Psychologists, doctors and addiction treatment centres, as well as those who have faced their shopping addiction, can fully grasp the frightening nature of compulsive buying. The brain biochemistry is comparable to that of drug addiction or alcoholism with its highs, lows and resulting self-destructive behaviour. Just like other addictions, compulsive shopping will only get worse if it is left untreated. At its worst it can lead to severe depression, suicide or mental illness. The financial and legal consequences may range from being chased by debt collectors, facing bankruptcy or being summoned to court. In some cases where the path to addiction has led a compulsive shopper to evade tax or steal or embezzle money, a jail sentence may be the end result. Below is a short radio interview from Youtube with an addiction expert discussing compulsive shopping in more detail.

Why asking for help is key

Recovered alcoholics and drug users often say that they could not have gotten well from their addictions until they decided to admit their problem and reach out for help. This is also true for shopping addicts. Until a compulsive shopper is ready to face the financial and emotional damage that they have done to themselves and perhaps also their loved ones, they cannot begin to get better. And because addiction by its very nature is a disease that leaves the sufferer in personal isolation, nursing their shame in secrecy, it is vital that the person seek the help of a professional addiction therapist, recovery centre or a self-help group.

Who can help?

If shopping has lost its lustre and retail therapy has turned destructive for you or someone you care about, it may be difficult to face the truth and confront the matter. There is help at hand, however. The first point of call might be a doctor or a reputable psychologist or a therapist. Several addiction rehabilitation clinics and centres offer treatment programs for compulsive shoppers and many of them also recommend that compulsive shoppers continue to attend Debtors Anonymous meetings after their initial treatment. The American author Jerrold Mundis has also written some helpful books on compulsive debting and issues with money.

It's worth it

Getting outside help is the number one priority, however scary it may feel. In the end it will be worth it. Learning to control shopping will not work here. If shopping is ruining your life and you just cannot stop, then things may have gotten out of control. Perhaps it is time to throw in the towel and ask for help. Why? Because everybody deserves to feel the freedom and contentment that comes with having total piece of mind over money.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)