Incidence and Progression of Compulsive Buying Behavior

Shopping addiction is characterised by excessive spending that is difficult to control, noticeably upsetting, time-consuming, and causes problems in the family, community, workplace, and/or finances. While it was left out of DSM-IV and DSM-5, compulsive shopping was listed as an impulse control disorder in DSM-III-R.

Maladaptive purchasing or shopping impulses or behaviour, as shown by frequent obsession with buying or urges to purchase that are felt as being irresistible, obtrusive, or nonsensical, as well as frequent buying of more than one can afford, define the behaviour. The buying obsessions, inclinations, or behaviours are quite distressing. The behaviour is not just present during manic or hypomanic episodes.

Incidence of Compulsive Buying Behavior (CBB)

It is estimated that 1.8% to 16% of the adult population in the United States is affected by compulsive buying (incited to buy impulsively, with substantial negative repercussions). CBB trends were discovered to be connected to age. Young people appear to be more vulnerable to CBB. According to research on the estimated frequency of CBB in the United States, identified compulsive shoppers were substantially younger than other respondents on average.

Two empirical research with student samples concluded that younger customers are engaged in more compulsive purchasing and are concerned that the younger generation CBB would harm them. It has a detrimental impact on their money and leads to significant personal debt. The condition is assumed to begin in the late teens or early twenties and seldom develops after 30.

This is a global problem, and approximately 5.8% of the US population will experience compulsive shopping disorder in their lifetime. Other studies show that the prevalence of compulsory shopping is 2-5% in economically developed countries, depending on gender: 6.0% for women and 5.5% for men. A study attempted to estimate the pooled prevalence of compulsive buying behavior. The CBB pooled prevalence of adult representative studies was 4.9% (3.4-6.9%, eight estimates, 10,102 participants), although estimates were higher among university students: 8.3% (5.9-11.5%, 19 estimates, 14,947 participants) in adult non-representative samples: 12.3% (7.6-19.1%, 11 estimates, 3929 participants) and in shopping-specific samples: 16.2% (8.8-27.8%, 11 estimates, 4686 participants).

Onset and Progression

People with compulsive shopping disorder (sometimes called compulsive buying disorder) are often struck with an irresistible and overpowering urge to purchase goods despite adverse consequences.

  • Characteristics of compulsive shopping disorder include −

  • Difficulty resisting the purchase of unneeded items

  • Financial difficulties because of uncontrolled shopping

  • Preoccupation with shopping for unneeded items

  • Problems at work, school, or home because of uncontrolled shopping

  • Spending a great deal of time researching coveted items and shopping for unneeded items

Lastly, to be considered compulsive buying disorder, the compulsive shopping behaviors must not be associated with another mental health condition, such as periods of hypomania or mania with bipolar disorder.

Many compulsive shoppers also experience one of the following co-occurring mental health conditions −

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Eating disorders, including bulimia and binge eating disorder

  • Impulse control disorders, including compulsive gambling, hair-pulling, and skin picking

  • Mood disorders, especially major depression

  • Personality disorders, including avoidant, depressive, obsessive-compulsive, and borderline personality disorder

  • Substance use disorders

Health professionals diagnosed with compulsive shopping disorder must be careful to distinguish between compulsive shopping and the shopping sprees that can sometimes accompany periods of mania in bipolar disorder.

Four distinct phases of CBD −

In the first stage, the person with CBD develops thoughts, cravings, or worries about having a particular item or the act of shopping. In the second stage, the person prepares to shop and spend. This can include decisions about when and where to go, how to dress, and even which credit cards to use. Substantial research may have occurred on discounted items, new fashion, or new stores. The third stage involves the shopping experience, which many CBD sufferers describe as highly stimulating and can even lead to sexual sensations. Ultimately, the act ends with a purchase, often followed by feelings of disappointment or disappointment in oneself.

History of CBB

In the last 20 years, compulsive buying has gone from being relatively unknown to becoming a hot subject in many of our major institutions, from the courts to the media. Its evolution from a mocking topic of humor (usually made fun of women) in comic strips and talk show monologues to severe discussions on television, in newspapers, and in magazines, serving as a mitigating circumstance in criminal trials, and finally becoming a research topic at top medical schools and universities. Compulsive purchasing is an illness being considered for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a publication of the American Psychiatric Association.

It is now widely recognized and treated through clinical practice. Many academic articles have now been produced on this subject in disciplines as various as finance, accounting, law, medicine, psychology, sociology, psychiatry, and economics. We have come a long way since we started studying compulsive buying about 20 years ago. Although there was little writing about compulsive buying until the middle of the 1980s, it was partially known that it existed. It (or something similar) was described as oniomania or purchasing mania in psychiatric textbooks as early as 1915.

It was mentioned in the psychiatric literature for around ten years before virtually ceasing until a small group of other researchers restarted our investigation in the middle of the 1980s.

Early in the 1900s, historians identified the decisive institutionalization of American consumer culture and the turning point between Victorian and modernist conceptions of consumption, self-control, hedonism, and therapy. It is during this time that compulsive buying is first mentioned. The fact that appropriate, unsuitable, and excessive consuming behaviors would be addressed and set within a therapeutic context in this setting is undoubtedly no coincidence.

Early in the 20th century, kleptomania, pyromania, and excessive collecting were among the monomanias or impulse disorders considered compulsive shopping. Initial definitions of oniomania included impulsively motivated buying behaviors that led to needless debt. Of all, easily accessible consumer credit was not available until five decades later, so "senseless debt" in 1915 was probably insignificant by the standards of today's family debt loads.

According to reports, patients with oniomania cannot restrain their activity or even comprehend the nonsensical results of their acts (. We should remark that debt and the disturbance it caused to one's life was a telltale sign of the disease from very early on. Although a significant buying problem was identified and diagnosed early on, compulsive buying received much more attention from the media in the middle of the 1980s, when self-help organizations started to emerge. Once more, it is remarkable that the subject is brought up again when discussing consumerism and its excesses was prevalent. Many years later, compulsive buying essays appeared in academic publications on psychotherapy, addiction, and consumer behavior.

Gender Differences

Women tend to regard shopping as a joyful leisure activity, but males view it negatively and as a chore that must be completed. On the CB scale, women score substantially higher than males. Women are more sensitive to CB when regulating emotions and moods. Another study reveals that impulsive shoppers may overspend to cope with stress and destructive emotions. The joys and pleasures more significantly impact women felt while shopping than males.

Nevertheless, several research in Western nations with samples of teenagers and university students showed no gender difference. Another study, using 410 samples of German university students, discovered that females had considerably lower CBB levels than males. As a result, the commonly believed gender disparities in CB are not as significant as findings from Western countries.

In one of the few sampling studies in China, researchers found that female students from Hong Kong and Macau scored much higher on the shopping scale than their male counterparts. A Chinese study on compulsive online shopping behavior among women indicated that under high stress, some women might participate in Compulsive online shopping behavior as a coping technique for stress, even if it is a negative approach, consistent with Western findings.

Gender differences were observed for purchased items. Women shop for clothes, bags, shoes, perfumes, makeup, and jewelry, while men like electronics, clothes, watches, and cars. Researchers found that 6% of women and 5.5% of men had symptoms consistent with compulsive buying disorder. The sex-adjusted prevalence is 5.8%. Specifically, male-compulsive shoppers were likelier to report that they were not heterosexual and had fewer years of formal education.

Regarding comorbid mental illnesses, men with shopaholics were more likely to be diagnosed with sex addiction and intermittent explosive disorder. Women are the main drivers of compulsive online shoppers (women primarily seek gratification, while men primarily seek information). In contrast, value-based and immersive shopping reduces compulsive online purchases, significantly impacting women; however, role-playing shopping is unrelated to mandatory online shopping for men.


Compulsory buying disorder, also known as shopping addiction, pathological buying, or compulsive buying disorder, is a mental health condition characterized by persistent, excessive product-buying behavior. Impulsive and uncontrollable despite serious psychological, social, occupational, and financial consequences. About 80% of people treated for this disorder are women.

However, men can often refer to their compulsive purchases as "gathering" and thus escape the diagnosis. This disorder usually first appears in late adolescence or early adulthood.

Updated on: 30-Mar-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started