Shopping Spree, or Addiction?
What happens when shopping spirals out of control, and in some cases, becomes an addiction?
From hitting the mall with your girlfriends on a Saturday afternoon, to
holiday spending on gifts that go under the tree, shopping could be called one
of America's favorite pastimes.
For most people, it means some new clothes for work or a small trinket for a
friend. For others, however, shopping is much more than an enjoyable pastime,
and in some cases, it is a real and destructive addiction that can turn into a
"Compulsive shopping and spending are defined as inappropriate, excessive,
and out of control," says Donald Black, MD, professor of psychiatry at the
University of Iowa College of Medicine. "Like other addictions, it basically
has to do with impulsiveness and lack of control over one's impulses. In
America, shopping is embedded in our culture; so often, the impulsiveness comes
out as excessive shopping."
Sometimes referred to as "shopoholism," shopping addiction can wreak havoc
on a person's life, family, and finances. Experts explain to WebMD why shopping
can be so addictive, what the warning signs are, and how to stop the cycle of
"No one knows what causes addictive behaviors, like shopping, alcoholism, drug abuse, and
gambling," says Ruth Engs, EdD, a professor of applied health science at
Indiana University. "Some of the new evidence suggests that some people, maybe
10%-15%, may have a genetic predisposition to an addictive behavior, coupled
with an environment in which the particular behavior is triggered, but no one
really knows why."
While the origin of addictions remains uncertain, why addicts continue their
destructive behaviors is better understood.
"Individuals will get some kind of high from an addictive behavior like
shopping," says Engs. "Meaning that endorphins and dopamine, naturally
occurring opiate receptor sites in the brain, get switched on, and the person
feels good, and if it feels good they are more likely to do it -- it's
So what are the telltale signs that shopping has crossed the line and become
"There are certainly a lot of commonalities among shopoholics and other
addicts," says Engs. "For instance, while alcoholics will hide their bottles,
shopoholics will hide their purchases."