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Retail Therapy or Shopping Addiction? Are you a Shopaholic? Risks of Overspending and Mental Health

Updated: Jul 6


If you've ever been to a mall, you've likely seen someone walking around with a furrowed brow and an intense look of concentration. This person might be wearing sunglasses to disguise their eyes from others and possibly muttering under their breath. That's because they're not just there to shop but hunt for the perfect item at their favourite store. Yep, they are on a mission!

For some people, shopping is more than just something people do to kill time or find new things; it can be an addiction. While some may think they have no problem with retail therapy, many signs can indicate if someone is truly addicted or just engaging in 'retail therapy' and just enjoying themselves while browsing in a store.

In this article, we'll look at what a shopaholic is and some of the causes of the condition. We'll also explore how psychologists can help people who are addicted to retail therapy overcome their problems.

If this graphic caught your eye then you need to read this article.

What is a Shopaholic?

When it comes to shopping, we all have our vices, whether it's buying shoes, clothes or kitchen appliances. One hundred pairs of shoes is never enough, right? ...and then you have to have handbags to match! And what a dilemma it is when you must upgrade your shoes and bags with jewellery and dresses. It is never-ending!

But what if you're shopping more than you should be? If this sounds like you or someone you know, then read on.

Sometimes, buying things can be a solution to a problem. Perhaps you are feeling bored, stressed or unmotivated, and the prospect of going shopping provides an easy way out. You may find that spending money helps you cope with negative feelings in the short term, but in the long run, it can create more problems than it solves.

Shopaholism is a type of addiction where you experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop buying things (such as depression), and continue buying even though this causes problems in your life (such as debt). Shopaholics often behave like high-functioning alcoholics because there is no physical hangover from shopping – just financial hangovers!

Problem shopping (shopaholism) can seriously stress your finances, relationships and self-esteem. Get help if you have a problem. Real therapy is cheaper than retail therapy! What's the point of a great wardrobe if you can't boast about your great therapist!?

What is Retail Therapy?

After an especially difficult day, you may want to treat yourself. A little retail therapy can be a great way to reward yourself for a job well done and might help you unwind after a stressful time. However, if you find yourself constantly looking for ways to get your hands on new clothes, shoes, or accessories—even if they don’t fit into your budget—it might be time to take stock of what motivates these purchases.

Shopping is more than just walking around stores and buying clothes that catch your eye: it’s an activity that’s been shown to boost moods in some people. If shopping brings joy into your life through the act itself or the items that result from it (like receiving compliments from others), then there’s nothing wrong with occasionally treating yourself with something new.

When shopping becomes an obsession, however, it starts negatively impacting other aspects of life like work productivity or health issues related to overspending money on unnecessary things (such as credit card debt). It might be time for us to reconsider how often we shop.

Thinking about why we shop so frequently can be the first step to feeling better and making smarter decisions in the future.

What are the Signs of Shopping Addiction?

  • You spend more than you can afford.

  • You feel guilty after shopping.

  • You spend much time thinking about shopping and planning your next trip to the mall or stores.

  • Shopping makes you feel better, even if it’s just for a little while, and that feeling lasts until your next shopping binge happens again.

What Causes Shopaholism?

You’re not alone if you’ve been called a shopaholic before. And you probably won't be surprised to learn that this designation has much to do with your personality.

Genetics can indeed influence our likelihood of developing addictive behaviours, but there are other factors at play as well. Such factors include the environment we were raised in, our mental health and trauma history, our stress levels, or even boredom.

Several mental health conditions may underlie shopaholism, including:

  1. Mood disorders: People with a shopping addiction may have underlying conditions such as depressionanxiety, and bipolar disorder, which can contribute to their compulsive buying behaviour.

  2. Impulse control disorders: Shopaholism is considered a form of impulse control disorder, which is characterised by the inability to resist the urge to engage in certain behaviours, such as shopping.

  3. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Some research suggests that people with ADHD may be more likely to develop shopping addiction due to impulsivity and difficulty focusing.

  4. Trauma or Stress-related disorder: Individuals who have experienced traumatic events or are suffering from stress disorders may use shopping as a way to cope with their emotions.

  5. Substance abuse disorder: Some people with shopping addiction may also have co-occurring substance abuse disorders, such as alcohol or drug addiction.

  6. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Individuals with OCD may have compulsive buying as a symptom.

It's important to note that not all individuals with shopaholism have underlying conditions, and not all individuals with underlying conditions develop shopaholism.

What are the Risks of Retail Therapy

Retail therapy, or the practice of using shopping as a form of self-care or stress relief, can have both benefits and risks. Some of the risks associated with retail therapy include:

  1. Financial problems: Overshopping can lead to significant financial problems, such as high debt levels and difficulty paying bills.

  2. Emotional distress: Retail therapy can provide short-term relief, but it can also lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and depression in the long run.

  3. Physical health problems: Individuals who engage in compulsive buying behaviour may experience physical health problems such as back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other health issues from carrying heavy bags.

  4. Isolation: Individuals who compulsively buy may withdraw from social activities and relationships, leading to isolation and loneliness.

  5. Addictive behaviour: Shopping addiction is a form of impulse control disorder, it can be treated as a behavioural addiction.

  6. Decrease in self-esteem: Individuals who experience negative consequences due to their compulsive buying behaviour may feel guilty and ashamed, which can lead to a decrease in self-esteem.

It's important to note that while retail therapy can have some benefits, it's important to be mindful of the potential risks and to seek help if compulsive buying behaviour is causing significant problems in one's life.

How can a Psychologist Help?

If you suffer from compulsive shopping, a psychologist can help you to understand your addiction and find ways to reduce stress. They will also help you build up your self-esteem and manage finances.

A psychologist can help with shopaholism by providing a variety of therapeutic interventions, such as:

  1. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT): This type of therapy can help individuals with shopping addiction identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours related to shopping.

  2. Mindfulness-based therapy: Mindfulness can help individuals with shopaholism to become more aware of their thoughts, feelings and behaviours, which are associated with compulsive buying behaviour.

  3. Psychodynamic therapy: This type of therapy can help individuals understand the underlying emotional issues that may be driving their compulsive buying behaviour.

  4. Family therapy: Family therapy can help address the role of family dynamics in the development and maintenance of compulsive buying behaviour.

  5. Medication: Depending on the underlying conditions, medication may be prescribed to help manage symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or impulse control.

It's important to note that treatment for shopaholism may involve a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes and that the best treatment approach depends on the individual's unique needs and circumstances.


Shopping can be a great way to relieve stress and feel better. However, if it’s causing you problems with your finances or relationships, it might be time to talk to someone about it. A psychologist can help you find ways of managing your shopping that don’t cause harm in other areas of your life.

Find a Psychologist

Professional support is available if you or someone you know is experiencing difficulty. Contact iflow psychology today at 02 6061 1144 to schedule an appointment.

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Location Details

Visit iflow Psychology in Leichhardt, Inner West Sydney, NSW, Australia, for in-person consultations. We also provide convenient telehealth services, ensuring accessibility no matter your location.


The information on this website is for informational purposes only. Before making any decisions, we recommend consulting your treating doctor, health professionals, and legal representatives. This is particularly important if you have health concerns, existing mental health or medical conditions, or feel you are not coping.

(c) 2023 Dean Harrison

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