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Oniomania (from Greek ὤνιος onios "for sale" and μανία mania "insanity"[1]) is the technical term for the compulsive desire to shop, more commonly referred to as compulsive shopping, shopping addiction, shopaholism, compulsive buying or CBD.

Compulsive shopping may be considered an impulse control disorder, an obsessive-compulsive disorder, a bipolar disorder,[2] or even a clinical addiction, depending on the clinical source.

History and current status[edit]

Buying addiction is a mental disorder among consumers, expressed as a compulsive, episodic purchasing of goods. It is similar to gambling addiction or the addiction to work. It is not seen as an independent disease but counted among the non-bonded addictions or as part of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Emil Kraepelin originally described oniomania over a century ago,[3] and he and Bleuler [1924] both included the syndrome in their influential early psychiatric textbooks.[4] However little interest was taken in CB until the 1990s,[5] and even in the 21st century compulsive shopping can be considered a barely recognised mental illness.[6]

Research in this area is only in the last decades catching up with that into comparable areas such as alcoholism, eating disorders or drug abuse.[7] There is growing evidence that it is a significant and worsening problem with serious consequences, both emotional and financial,[8] and affecting perhaps as many as 8.9 percent of the American population.[9]

As consumer outlets multiply globally, on- and off-line, the rate of oniomania in other parts of the world is catching up with that of the US.[10]

The only not-for-profit organisation raising awareness of oniomania and shopping addiction in the world is the Australia-based Blue Star Foundation -"The first in the world to take on this cause. We aim to raise awareness and provide helpful information for the sufferers."[11]


The terms compulsive shopping, compulsive buying, and compulsive spending are often used interchangeably, but the behaviors they represent are in fact distinct. (Nataraajan and Goff 1992)[page needed] One may buy without shopping, and certainly shop without buying: of compulsive shoppers, some 30% described the act of buying itself as providing a buzz,[12] irrespective of the goods purchased.

Symptoms and course[edit]

Four diagnostic criteria for compulsive buying have been proposed: 1. Over-preoccupation with buying; 2. distress or impairment as a result of the activity; 3. the compulsive buying is not limited to hypomanic or manic episodes.[13]

While initially triggered by a perhaps mild need to feel special and less lonely, the failure of compulsive shopping to actually meet such needs may lead to a vicious cycle of escalation,[14] with sufferers experiencing the highs and lows associated with other addictions.[15] The 'high' of the purchasing may be followed by a sense of disappointment, and of guilt,[16] precipitating a further cycle of impulse buying in the quest for a sense of special identity.[17] With the now addicted person increasingly feeling negative emotions like anger and stress, they may attempt to self-medicate through further purchases,[18] followed again by regret or depression once they return home[19] - leading to an urge for yet another spree.

As debt grows, the compulsive shopping may become a more secretive act.[20] At the point where bought goods are hidden or destroyed, because the person concerned feels so ashamed of their addiction, the price of the addiction in mental, financial and emotional terms becomes even higher.[21]



Shopaholism often has roots in early experience, with failed parent-child transactions leading people to turn to objects to fill the sense of void and empty identity.[22] Children who experience parental neglect often grow up with low self-esteem because throughout much of their childhood they felt unimportant as people, and turned to substitute comforts,[23] such as toys or food, in compensation for loneliness. Adults who depended on material objects for emotional support when they were much younger are more likely to become addicted to shopping because of the ongoing sentiment of deprivation they endured as children: the purchase instead of the toy or the food is substituted for affection. Perfectionism, general impulsiveness and compulsiveness, and the need to gain control have also been linked to the disorder.[24]

Compulsive buying seems to represent a search for self in people whose identity is neither firmly felt nor dependable, as indicated by the way purchases often provide social or personal identity-markers.[25] Those with associated disorders such as anxiety, depression and poor impulse control are particularly likely to be attempting to treat symptoms of low self-esteem through compulsive shopping.[26]

Others, however, object that such psychological explanations for compulsive buying do not apply to all people with CBD.[27]


Social conditions also play an important role in oniomania, the rise of consumer culture contributing to the view of compulsive buying as a specifically postmodern addiction.[28]

Readily available credit cards enable casual spending beyond one's means, and some would suggest that the compulsive buyer should lock up or destroy credit cards altogether.[29] Online shopping also facilitates oniomania, with online auction addiction, used to escape feelings of depression or guilt, becoming a recognisable problem.[30]

What differentiates oniomania from healthy shopping is the compulsive, destructive and chronic nature of the buying. Where shopping can be a positive root to self-expression, in excess it represents a dangerous threat.[31]


The consequences of oniomania, which may persist long after a spree, can be devastating, with marriages, long-term relationships, and jobs all feeling the strain.[32] Further problems can include ruined credit history, theft or defalcation of money, defaulted loans, general financial trouble and in some cases bankruptcy or extreme debt, as well as anxiety and a sense of life spiralling out of control.[33]

The resulting stress can lead to physical health problems and ruined relationships, or even suicide.[34]


Oniomania is the most frequent comorbid impulse disorder in people suffering from pathological gambling.[35]

Cultural examples[edit]

  • Jay McInerney argued that people were "getting the same message from the culture in Tennessee or Alaska - live to spend, dress to kill, shop...your way to happiness",[36]
  • The shoes of Imelda Marcos are sometimes taken as a sign of compulsive buying disorder.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ OMD. (2000, Mar 5). Retrieved, January 16, 2008, from http://cancerweb.ncl.ac.uk/cgi-bin/omd?oniomania
  2. ^ April Lane Benson/Marie Gengler, "Treating Compulsive Buying" in Robert H. Coombs, Handbook of Addictive Disorders (2004), p. 455
  3. ^ Donald W. Black, 'A review of compulsive buying disorder'
  4. ^ R. J. Frances et al., Clinical Textbook of Addictive Disorders (2005) p. 315
  5. ^ Black
  6. ^ Jon E. Grant/S. W. Kim, Stop Me Because I Can't Stop Myself (2004) p. 16
  7. ^ Benson/Gengler, p. 451
  8. ^ Benson/Gengler p. 251
  9. ^ Nancy M. Ridgway, Monika Kukar‐Kinney and Kent B. Monroe, An Expanded Conceptualization and a New Measure of Compulsive Buying, Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 35, No. 4 (December 2008), pp. 622-639, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/591108
  10. ^ Benson/Gengler, p. 453
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ Helga Dittmar, "Understanding and Diagnosing Compulsive Buying", in Robert H. Coombs, Handbook of Addictive Disorders (2004) p. 438
  13. ^ Frances, p. 315
  14. ^ Pamela Klaffke, Spree (2004) p. 185
  15. ^ Klaffke, p. 185
  16. ^ Lucy Costigan, Women and Healing (2006) p. 208
  17. ^ Helga Dittmar, "Understanding and Diagnosing Compulsive Buying", in Robert H. Coombs, Handbook of Addictive Disorders (2004) p. 442
  18. ^ Dittmar, p. 426
  19. ^ Dittmar, p. 424
  20. ^ Klaffke, p. 185
  21. ^ Catalano and Sonenberg, in Costigan, p. 208
  22. ^ Elias Aboujaourde/Lorrin M. Koran, Impulse Control Disorders (Cambridge 2010) p. 8
  23. ^ Patrick Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (London 1990) p. 127
  24. ^ April Lane Benson, I Shop Therefore I Am (2000)
  25. ^ Aboujaourde/Koran, p. 8
  26. ^ April Lane Benson/Marie Gengler, "Treating Compulsive Buying" in Coombs, p. 451
  27. ^ Aboujaourde/Koran, p. 9
  28. ^ Dittmar, p. 417
  29. ^ Dennis Hayes, Beyond the Silicon Curtain (1989) p. 145
  30. ^ Elen Lewis, The eBay Phenomenon (2008) p. 95
  31. ^ April Lane Benson and Marie Gengler, "Treating Compulsive Buying", in Coombs, p. 452
  32. ^ Klaffke, p. 430
  33. ^ Bruno Zumo, Advances in quality of life research, 2001 (2002) p. 164
  34. ^ Grant/Kim, p. 36
  35. ^ Jon E. Grant/Marc N. Potenza, Pathological Gambling (2004) p. 43
  36. ^ Jay McInerney, The Good Life (London 2007) p. 159
  37. ^ Black

Further reading[edit]

  • Benson, A. To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop Boston: Trumpeter Books, 2008.
  • Black, D.W. (2007). A review of compulsive buying disorder. World Psychiatry, 6, 1, pp. 14–18.
  • Bleuler, E. Textbook of Psychiatry. New York: Macmillan, 1924.
  • Catalano E. and Sonenberg, N. Consuming Passions: Help for Compulsive Shoppers. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, 1993.
  • DeSarbo WS and Edwards EA. “Typologies of Compulsive Buying Behavior: A Constrained Cluster-Wise Regression Approach.” Journal of Consumer Psychology 1996; 5: 231-252, 1996.
  • Elliott, R. “Addictive Consumption: Function and Fragmentation in Postmodernity.” Journal of Consumer Policy, 17, 159-179, 1994.
  • Faber, R. J., O’Guinn, T. C. and Krych, R. “Compulsive Consumption.” Advances in Consumer Research, 14, 132-135, 1987.
  • Kraepelin, E. Psychiatrie (8th ed.). Leipzig: Verlag von Johann Ambrosius Barth, 1915.
  • McElroy, SL, Phillips KA, Keck PE, Jr. “Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Disorder.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry; 55[10, suppl]: 33-51,1994
  • Nataraajan, R. and Goff, B. “Manifestations of Compulsiveness in the Consumer-Marketplace Domain.” Psychology and Marketing, 9 (1), 31-44,1992.
  • Ridgway NM, Kukar-Kinney M, Monroe K. “An expanded conceptualization and a new measure of compulsive buying.” Journal of Consumer Research, 35, #4, 350-406, Dec. 2008.

External links[edit]