These psychologists say shopping addiction is real

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Hi. My name is Isha. (Hi, Isha.) And I’m toying around with the idea that I’m addicted to shopping. I shop for clothes when I'm feelin’ like myself. I shop for comics when I need a pick-me-up. Sometimes I shop to help me deal with the stress of having low funds in my bank account. But do these habits make me a shopping addict?

While there’s no listing for shopping addiction in the DSM-V, plenty of mental health professionals think that if gambling can be considered a behavioral addiction, so can shopping. In fact, one researcher in Norway recently took it upon herself to create a scale of shopping addiction, using pre-existing addiction criteria to help folks figure out if they really are shopaholics or not.

To create the scale, Cecilie Andreassen—a psychologist at the University of Bergen—and a team of researchers conducted a study to identify various societal shopping habits and figure out if certain demographics were susceptible to addiction. The study involved asking 23,537 participants, recruited through ads on online news sites and TV commercials, to fill out a questionnaire describing their buying habits, their personality, and any possible symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. The average age of the participants was 35.8 years old.


Overall, the researchers found that women were more likely than men to be “problematic shoppers,” and shopping addiction behaviors peaked around adolescence and decreased with age. They also found that problematic shopping was associated with neuroticism, anxiety, and depression—and interestingly, with extroversion.

“People who scored high on extroversion may be using shopping as a way of expressing their own individuality, to maybe uphold social status,” Andreassen told me over the phone. “These are people who are typically outgoing, social, need a lot of stimuli—and that’s maybe one explanation.”

But what does it take to qualify as a shopping addict? Well, that’s where the scale comes in. Andreassen came up with a list of seven simple criteria—the idea is that people who think they might have a problem can rate how relevant each item is on a scale of 0 to 4 (0 meaning "Completely Disagree" and 4 meaning "Completely Agree").

“Each of the seven items measures one of the seven components that are typically acknowledged as core addiction elements,” she explained. (The seven addiction components are salience, mood modification, conflict, tolerance, withdrawal, relapse, and problems.) Here are the items:

  • You think about shopping/buying things all the time.
  • You shop/buy things in order to change your mood.
  • You shop/buy so much that it negatively affects your daily obligations (e.g., school and work).
  • You feel you have to shop/buy more and more to obtain the same satisfaction as before.
  • You have decided to shop/buy less, but have not been able to do so.
  • You feel bad if you for some reason are prevented from shopping/buying things.
  • You shop/buy so much that it has impaired your well-being.

If you find that four or more of these criteria are very relevant to you (you rate the criteria a 3 or 4), you may be addicted to shopping. So what can you do?


“Currently there’s no well-documented treatment,” Andreassen told me, “but you can, of course, look to similar addictive behaviors and their self-help techniques.”

Andreassen suggested a range of options including getting rid of credit cards, being aware of trigger situations (do you shop online or in a mall?), making a shopping list and sticking to it, and even indulging in meditative and relaxation techniques to temper those shopping cravings. Of course, there are also a range of apps like Cold Turkey that will block the sites you find particularly addicting. So there is a way.


Many of us are familiar with the emotional toll shopping can take. Either that new leather jacket is the perfect pick-me-up or it provides enough guilt for guilt-tripping mothers everywhere to take the next month off. But maybe with this new scale—by quantifying that emotional toll—we’ll be more aware of our habits are impacting our lives.

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