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Is Online Shopping Becoming an Addiction?

By Christa A. Banister

It’s no secret that brick-and-mortar stores are in serious decline, and that’s primarily because online shopping is increasingly easy and appealing.

By catering to the whims of our instant-gratification world, all that separates someone from practically anything they want, even if they live in the middle of nowhere, is a few clicks and a credit card number. It’s no-fuss, no-muss shopping, and you can do it in your pajamas, so what’s not to like, right?

But, like many good things in life, even those intended to improve your well-being, online shopping can become a serious problem when proper judgment isn’t exercised. Let’s face it, online retailers are making it easier and easier to get sucked into buying things you really don’t need without first considering the financial implications. And thanks to great advances in targeted marketing, you’re regularly receiving “we thought you’d like this” suggestions in your web searches and buying opportunities in your Facebook newsfeed.

The pressure to constantly consume has become more intense than ever, and the resulting endorphin rush can be as powerful as using alcohol and other drugs.1

A New Breed of Shopaholic

Man shopping online with credit cardFor many people, frequenting the local mall was previously about as appealing as going to the dentist twice a year. It was a necessary evil reserved for back-to-school, Christmas gift shopping and nothing more. But now that crowds, parking and driving long distances are no longer an issue with online shopping, Americans are giving their pocketbooks a serious workout.

In 2015, Americans spent a record $341.7 billion on online purchases, which was more than double what they forked out only five years prior, according to the United States Department of Commerce.2 Resulting from the ease of browsing, buying online and the positive feelings associated with receiving mail, an estimated 8-11 percent of Americans now suffer from shopping addiction, also known as Oniomania, according to Psychology Today.3

The Struggle is Real

We’ve all been there at one point or another. Maybe you’ve had a bad day, and instead of a glass of wine, a square of dark chocolate or a sweat session at the gym, you try a little retail therapy. Whether your vice of choice is shoes, music downloads, books, video games, or another material possession, it makes you feel a little better.

But for the compulsive shopper, the occasional indulgence is never enough — it’s an itch that needs to be scratched regularly. So, what exactly are the key distinctions between treating yourself and actually having a problem? Well, there are several signs of online shopping addiction, and oftentimes they’re quite similar to those for other compulsive disorders.

Addicts will neglect their jobs or families —online shops never close, after all — and when they’re not actively purchasing the latest merchandise, they’re often thinking about what they “need” next. As a result of acquiring these extraneous items they can’t afford, they often rack up significant debt in the process. And when they’re questioned about their purchases or how much they cost? Lying often becomes their go-to defense mechanism. Not only is shopping addiction not good for the wallet, but it’s a real relationship killer as well.

Seeking Help for Shopping Addiction

While it would be easy to dismiss the seriousness of shopping addiction, it’s important to realize that, like any other addiction, it’s a disease. And like any other disease, treatment focuses on management of the behavior, which can be particularly challenging, considering how tethered we are to our mobile devices and computers these days.

In addition to identifying what someone’s online shopping triggers are, whether it’s boredom, nervousness, the perception of [insert whatever you think you need to buy here] as the cure for all that ails, a series of proactive measures can help keep the shopping impulse in check.

Again, part of what makes online shopping so appealing is the ease. Once your credit card numbers and shipping information are saved within a website, you can buy something in a matter of seconds. Removing that information from your favorite e-commerce sites can help reduce impulsivity. Unsubscribing from email newsletters promoting “can’t-miss” sales is also an antidote to shopping when you weren’t planning to. Time also plays a significant role. Limiting how long you log into social media and being mindful of the companies and retailers you follow can also be helpful in creating healthy new habits. Setting strict budget limits and accountability with a trusted confidant is also key to successfully moving forward.


1 Landau, Elizabeth. “Compulsive Shopping: When Spending is Like Substance Abuse.”, January 3, 2012.

2 Schuster, Dana. “Online Shopping Has Created a Whole New Breed of Addicts.” New York Post, August 11, 2016.

3 Banschick M.D., Mark. “The Shopaholic: When Shopping Becomes an Illness.” Psychology Today, July 8, 2014.