Diagnosing Shopping Addiction

Are you addicted to shopping? Are you wondering how to determine if you or a loved one has an issue with excessive spending? It may now be possible to objectively determine a diagnosis using The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale, a method developed by a group of researchers to measure shopping addiction.[1] However, before we quantify shopping addiction, here’s a quick overview on this often hidden type of addiction.

Shopping Addiction: A Behavioral Disorder

Shopping addiction is usually recognized as a disorder in which an individual engages in a pattern of chronic, repetitive purchasing and/or shopping that that they are unable to stop or control, even if they encounter severe negative consequences. It is frequently referred to as Compulsive Buying Disorder (CBD) by the American Psychiatric Association.[2]

A True Addiction

Professionals studying CBD believe that there are key similarities among shopaholics and other addictions such as drug and alcohol abuse. For example:

  • Secrecy is common; alcoholics will hide their bottles, shopaholics will hide their purchases
  • Both drug abusers and shopaholics often resort to their negative behaviors in times of stress
  • Shopping addicts can experience a neurological “high” when they engage in their addiction. The spike in neurotransmitters (dopamine) causes the brain to perceive shopping as a rewarding experience causing a rush of pleasure, thus reinforcing repetition of the activity, similar with substance addiction
  • Like alcohol and drug addicts, this euphoria for shopping addicts produces the desire to repeat the “negative” behavior
  • A shopping addiction can be misunderstood by family and friends who believe it should be a simple process to simply avoid and stop the destructive behavior
  • The shopaholic experiences guilt and shame about their inability to control the behavior
  • Once the addict is finished shopping, there are often a feelings of disappointment depression, self-criticism and anger, comparable to the emotions of many substance abusers
  • Like other addictions, those suffering from Compulsive Buying Disorder may require professional help to regain control of their life

The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale

This recently developed method of diagnosing shopping addiction is said to be the first of its kind. Researchers say this large study shows some patterns as to who is more likely to develop a shopping dependency.

  • Addictive shopping is more predominant in women
  • It is typically initiated in late adolescence and emerging adulthood
  • People who score high on extroversion are more at risk of developing shopping addiction
  • People, who typically are anxious, depressive and self-conscious may use shopping as a way to diminish negative feelings
  • Individuals who are conscientious, agreeable and who like seek out new intellectual stimuli are less at risk from shopping addiction due to their self-control
  • Shopping addiction is commonly related to symptoms of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem
  • This specific addiction may function as an escape mechanism for coping with unpleasant feelings
  • It does appear to decrease with age

The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale uses seven basic criteria to identify shopping addiction, where all items are scored on the following scale:

(0) Completely disagree,

(1) Disagree,

(2) Neither disagree nor agree,

(3) Agree,

(4) Completely agree:

In determining the level of a shopping addiction, these seven questions should be responded to in an honest and candid manner:

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

The research provides evidence that demonstrates scoring of “agree” or “completely agree” on at least four of the seven items may suggest that you are a shopping addict.

Getting Help

The treatments used for a shopping addiction are essentially the same as those used for a substance abuse with one distinction.

Research has indicated that the shopaholic often values materialism and believes affection from others can be bought. A real social connection with other people may help increase the individual’s self-worth and help reduce the need for other’s approval.

Counselors trained in this specific area of therapy encourage the following steps:

  • Identify triggers. Take note of what’s likely to send you off to the nearest department store, just as an alcoholic must become aware of what propels them to drink
  • Remove temptation. Common sense tells us that you should not walk through a shopping mall if you are attempting to control your spending, just as an alcoholic should not tempt themselves by visiting a bar. Shopping may be more difficult with the explosion of on-line retail buying, so the shopaholic must also find methods to resist the urge to surf the internet.
  • Ask for help. If you’re still struggling with compulsive shopping, don’t be afraid to ask for professional help. There is no shame in reaching out for support.

Shopping addiction is a lifelong issue that faces the recovering addict daily. However, it can be effectively treated and managed and brought under control. There is always hope.


[1] http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01374/abstract

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1805733/

Audrey Beim holds two advanced degrees from major universities, including a Master’s Degree in Psychology. She has over 20 years of experience in the health, wellness, nutritional and fitness categories and has used her expertise to write articles for media outlets such as Linfield Media and Examiner.com.

Copyright © 2022 MH Sub I, LLC. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Policy | Health Disclaimer | Do Not Sell My Personal Information