Are You a Compulsive Shopper?

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Compulsive or pathological buying, or monomania, is defined as frequent preoccupation with buying or impulses to buy that are experienced as irresistible, intrusive, and/or senseless. The buying behavior causes marked distress, interferes with social functioning and marriage and often results in financial problems.

Those suffering from monomania often experience feeling elated after making a purchase. However, once the item is in their possession, elation wears off and depression or emptiness returns. This includes feeling angry for having made the unnecessary purchases. Suze Orman, psychologist and financial author of three consecutive New York Times bestsellers, including The Road to Wealth, says “our emotions influence up to 80 per cent of our financial decisions.” Therefore, it is no surprise that this compulsive shopping disorder would be interwoven with feelings and emotions.


Monomania is a real addiction. People with this shopping disorder often cannot stop thinking about going out to shop. They cannot contain or control the wish to buy more things. What is the old joke, “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping?” In actuality, the opposite is true. Monomania or compulsive is often a failed attempt to cope with emotions that cannot be tolerated. For example, many years ago a very wealthy patient would compulsive and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, whether they can or cannot afford it, as a way to chase away his feelings of depression and emptiness. As with all cases of monomania, no sooner did he bring the item home, he lost interest and fell back to feeling depressed, empty and bored. This called a compulsive behavior because the wish to shop and make purchases is irresistible. Like someone who is addicted to alcohol, the individual must get out and go the stores in order to make all types of purchases. Those with monomania often risk or fall into bankruptcy because the accumulated expenses become overwhelming and the person cannot meet their bills.

Compulsive shoppers easily get themselves and their families into debt. In the worst cases people take second  mortgages on their homes. When debt gets completely out of control it is then necessary to declare bankruptcy. Because compulsive shoppers spend so much money, they must keep their spending secret from their husband or wife. Ultimately, there comes that day when the dismal condition of family finances comes to light. Once that happens, relationships end in divorce and families are pulled apart. This happens because the anger and sense of betrayal are powerful.

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In some ways monomania is connected to hoarding. Purchases are repetitively made of items that the person already has. By and large, these things are stored and not used once they are home. For instance, many types of watches, pocketbooks or shoes may be purchased. However, once home, they are put in the drawer or closet, along with all the other watches, never to be seen or worn again. Then, purchases can pile up much like what happens with a hoarder. In this case, the full emphasis is on shopping and buying. At the very same time there is a tendency for the shopper to keep the purchases a secret from friends and family.

It has been found that 1% to 6% of the population suffers with this illness. Among those, 90% are female. The causes are not clear. Some experts believe the source of the problem lies in some form of neurological disorder. Other suggestions are that there may be a correlation between having been abused or unloved during childhood and developing this disorder.

While it may seem to loved ones as though this destructive behavior is deliberate, it is not. This is a real illness in which people are driven to do things over which they have no control.

Help is available. Research is being done on what causes this illness as well as what are the best ways to go out helping people. It is possible to get treatment for monomania. At present this consists of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and/or anti depressant medication, especially Luvox. If you or anyone you know is or might be suffering from this illness seek help from a Clinical Psychologist who uses CBT. If necessary, your psychologist can refer you for medication treatment.

Your comments are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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