Compulsive shopping and spending is described as a pattern of chronic, repetitive purchasing that becomes difficult to stop and ultimately results in harmful consequences. It is defined as an impulse control disorder and has features similar to other addictive disorders without involving the use of an intoxicating drug. There are many social and cultural factors that tend to increase the addictive potential of shopping and spending. The easy availability of credit and the material focus of society in general, encourages people to accumulate possessions now and worry about financial responsibility later. Purchasing has been made easier with the availability of on-line shopping and television stations devoted to buying goods 24 hours a day.
The shopping and spending activity itself is associated with a feeling of happiness and power, which is immediately gratifying. The after effects of remorse and guilt drive the spender back to purchase again to be able to achieve that brief, but intense, emotional high. Research has shown that many compulsive shoppers and spenders also suffer from mood disorders, substance abuse, or eating disorders. As with any addiction, the person becomes dependent on the behavior to relieve negative feelings that cause distress and discomfort. Compulsive shopping or spending may also result in interpersonal, occupational, family, and financial problems in one’s life. Impairment in relationships may occur as a result of excessive spending and efforts to cover up debt or purchases. They may experience anxiety or depression as a result of the spending or shopping, which may interfere with work or school performance. Financial problems may occur if money is borrowed or there is excessive use of credit to make purchases. Often the extent of the financial damage is discovered only after the shopper or spender has accumulated a large debt that necessitates a drastic change in lifestyle to resolve.