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What is a Compulsive Shopper?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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A compulsive shopper is someone who is addicted to shopping, much in the same way that one might be addicted to gambling or alcohol. The term compulsive shopper is used because a person has a compulsion, or need to shop that overrides the person’s ability to consider the consequences of spending money.

Sometimes the term compulsive shopper may also apply to people who make last minute unnecessary purchases. In fact store merchandising often appeals to shoppers who might make a last minute purchase. Items located around a cashier can lure the shopper into a quick decision regarding throwing a few extra things in the shopping cart. Grocery stores, for example, usually send one through a line with colorful magazines, razors, gum, and a few other items that may not be needed.

However, the occasional purchase of an extra magazine at the cashier station is quite different than an addiction to shopping. Like all addictions the compulsive shopper gets a temporary “high” from making a purchase. Generally, the elevation of mood is short-lived and encourages the behavior again so that one can achieve the same “high.”

This is a vicious cycle, because often the compulsive shopper is wracked by feelings of guilt in between shopping excursions. As well, the more the habit grows, the more likely the compulsive shopper will begin to experience a great deal of debt. Generally, the compulsion to shop overrides practical concerns and can send people to financial ruin. A compulsive shopper can quickly max out credit cards, fail to pay for things like food, rent or utilities, or begin to steal if there is no money left to shop.

What a compulsive shopper purchases is usually not important. Further, until recently, most people believed that shopping addicts were mostly women. Studies show that men are almost as likely to become shopping addicts as well.

Addiction tends to arise from the “high” and from a deep-seated need to replace something lacking in one’s life. Natural healthy highs from good relationships, the pleasure of raising children, having friendships or performing well at work may be lacking. Thus the person seeks outside his or her current existence for a way to mask pain at missing such things. Some turn to alcohol, drugs or gambling, and others turn to shopping.

Compulsive shopping is a hard addiction to overcome since people do need to shop for basic things like food and clothing. Thus a person cannot completely eliminate shopping. There is help, however, for the compulsive shopper. There are shoppers anonymous groups, and many treatment facilities that help people deal with any type of addictive behavior.

Seeking help is indeed important, because often compulsive shopping can lead people to rock bottom situations where they lose all of their possessions. As well, compulsive shopping can damage relationships with spouses or with children, beyond repair.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By FHResearch — On May 10, 2011

@anon8333: i am interested in speaking with you in more detail about your mother and her compulsive apple buying. i am researching this type of behavior and how it affects family members in addition to how it affects the person's daily life. thoughts?

By anon146730 — On Jan 27, 2011

@ No. 17: I'm a 50 year old mum with a shopaholic, 75-year-old mother who spends £800 a month on TV channel clothing! My brother and I had to bail her out a few years ago for thousands of pounds. Now I know I might sound harsh, but apples don't sound quite so bad, now do they?

You are old enough to get yourself into school, or tech, go to one of the job centres near you or college office and see what they can do for you. There are agencies to help you catch up. A social worker will tell you where.

If you go to your doctor and tell him how your mum is behaving, he may be able to suggest a course of action, but because you are over 16, you sort of fall between the cracks in regards getting legal help. A social worker is probably of more use in those circumstances in the first instance, as these days doctors aren't so familiar with your circumstances, but they do have a legal obligation to recommend a social worker for you, i.e., you sort of bounce back and forth between them for services, O.K.?

Have you got any relatives or responsible older friends that would listen to you and support you? How do your Dad and brother cope with her? A lot of men seem to just ignore it, which is probably part of why she feels so misunderstood. It must be quite a lonely and confused place where they are in their heads, but I know from 40 years or so of trying that fluent communication comes and goes.

You may recognize this. At about 14 I realized that I was the adult and she was the child, in some fundamental way.

I have a friend with an agoraphobic mum, and we have helped each other over the years because there's always that nagging fear in the back of your mind, 'Am I going to do that too?' It's possible to repeat the behavior in yourself but it is not inevitable. At all. So don't be scared about that.

I'm a housewife whose husband goes to work early and gets home late so I do the housework and potter about with our cats and dachshunds. I only got on the internet for xmas and I've got the bug! Best wishes. --Jayne F.

By anon89848 — On Jun 12, 2010

Try to talk to your mom in a nice way. You should still respect her even if she is doing these things; remember she is still your mom.

If you are going to talk to her like a friend, she will probably listen to you. Once you already have her attention, try to lay down the things one at a time, and try to ask her questions nicely like why is she doing this things? can't she try to get rid of it?

help her see the advantages and disadvantages of doing these things. Do not call her insane because she might be hurt, but talk to her as your mom. I'm certain that she will listen to you and come up with a possible solution for your problem.

By anon8333 — On Feb 11, 2008

my mom is insane!! i'm 17 and unschooled. my mom doesn't pay attention to me only if i cut and tell someone in my fam about it. she buys and buys 100 apples a month. i can't stand her! she is the worst mom because she complains about not going on vacations when she blows all of my dads money on apples. apples. and tons of bread! bagels other fruits when we don't even need them. i tell her this is unnecessary and she should stop but she just looks at me with crazy eyes and yells. she's 115 pounds, i'm heavier than her and i've been vegan for 3 years!! i don't know what to do. i can't tell anyone really and she won't listen to me or my 16 year old brother who is a true athlete. she is just insane. someone help me!!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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