Compulsive buying disorder

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Compulsive buying disorder (CBD), or oniomania (from Greek ὤνιος ṓnios "for sale" and μανία manía "insanity"[1]), is characterized by an obsession with shopping and buying behavior that causes adverse consequences. According to Kellett and Bolton,[2] compulsive buying "is experienced as an irresistible–uncontrollable urge, resulting in excessive, expensive and time-consuming retail activity [that is] typically prompted by negative affectivity" and results in "gross social, personal and/or financial difficulties".[2] Most people with CBD meet the criteria for a personality disorder. Compulsive shopping is classified by ICD-10 (F63.8) as an "impulse control disorder, not otherwise classified." Several authors consider compulsive shopping rather as a variety of dependence disorder.[3]


Emil Kraepelin originally described oniomania 1924,[4] and he and Bleuler both included the syndrome in their influential early psychiatric textbooks.[5] However, little interest was taken in CBD until the 1990s,[4] and, even in the 21st century, compulsive shopping can be considered a barely recognised mental illness.[6]


CBD is frequently comorbid with mood, anxiety, substance abuse and eating disorders. People who score highly on compulsive buying scales tend to understand their feelings poorly and have low tolerance for unpleasant psychological states such as negative moods.[7] Onset of CBD occurs in the late teens and early twenties and is generally chronic. CBD is similar to, but distinguished from, OCD hoarding and mania. Compulsive buying is not limited to people who spend beyond their means; it also includes people who spend an inordinate amount of time shopping or who chronically think about buying things but never purchase them. Promising treatments for CBD include medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and support groups such as Debtors Anonymous.[8][9][10][11]

Research revealed that 1.8 to 8.1 percent of the general adult population have CBD and that while the usual onset is late adolescence or early adulthood, it is often recognized as a problem later in life.[12]


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 percent described the act of buying itself as providing a buzz,[13] irrespective of the goods purchased.


CBD often has roots in early experience. Perfectionism, general impulsiveness and compulsiveness, dishonesty, insecurity, and the need to gain control have also been linked to the disorder.[14][15]

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. [16] 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.[17]

Others, however, object that such psychological explanations for compulsive buying do not apply to all people with CBD.[18]

Social conditions also play an important role in CBD, the rise of consumer culture contributing to the view of compulsive buying as a specifically postmodern addiction, particularly with regard to internet buying platforms.[19]

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.[20] Online shopping also facilitates CBD, with online auction addiction, used to escape feelings of depression or guilt, becoming a recognisable problem.[21]

What differentiates CBD from healthy shopping is the compulsive, destructive and chronic nature of the buying. Where shopping can be a positive route to self-expression, in excess it represents a dangerous threat.[22]

Materialism and image seeking[edit]

A social psychological perspective suggests that compulsive buying may be seen as an exaggerated form of a more normal search for validation through purchasing.[23] Also, pressures from the spread of materialist values and consumer culture over the recent decades can drive people into compulsive shopping.[24]

In a global context where we are all encouraged to "shop till we drop"[25]—compulsive shopping inevitably poses the further question, "Minority pathology or Mass problem?"[24] With advertisements offering not so much products as narratives (of success, glamour) to identify with,[26] compulsive buying may seem only an extreme aspect of what consumer culture demands from us all.[27]

Symptoms and course[edit]

Diagnostic criteria for compulsive buying have been proposed:

1. Over-preoccupation with buying.

2. Distress or impairment as a result of the activity.

3. Compulsive buying is not limited to hypomanic or manic episodes.[28]

While initially triggered by a perhaps mild need to feel special, the failure of compulsive shopping to actually meet such needs may lead to a vicious cycle of escalation,[29] with sufferers experiencing the highs and lows associated with other addictions.[30] The 'high' of the purchasing may be followed by a sense of disappointment, and of guilt,[31] precipitating a further cycle of impulse buying.[32][33] With the now addicted person increasingly feeling negative emotions like anger and stress, they may attempt to self-medicate through further purchases,[34] followed again by regret or depression once they return home,[35] leading to an urge for buying more. The aforementioned symptoms are aggravated further by the availability of money through access to credit cards and easy bank loans.[36]

As debt grows, the compulsive shopping may become a more secretive act.[30] 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.[37]


The consequences of compulsive buying, which may persist long after a spree, can be devastating, with marriages, long-term relationships, and jobs all feeling the strain.[38] 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 spiraling out of control.[39] The resulting stress can lead to physical health problems and ruined relationships, or even suicide.[40]


Treatment involves becoming conscious of the addiction through studying, therapy and group work. Research done by Michel Lejoyeux and Aviv Weinstein suggests that the best possible treatment for CBD is through cognitive behavioral therapy. They suggest that a patient first be "evaluated for psychiatric comorbidity, especially with depression, so that appropriate pharmacological treatment can be instituted." Their research indicates that patients who received cognitive behavioral therapy over 10 weeks had reduced episodes of compulsive buying and spent less time shopping as opposed to patients who did not receive this treatment (251).

Lejoyeux and Weinstein also write about pharmacological treatment and studies that question the use of drugs on CB. They declare "few controlled studies have assessed the effects of pharmacological treatment on compulsive buying, and none have shown any medication to be effective." (252) The most effective treatment is to attend therapy and group work in order to prevent continuation of this addiction.[41][42]

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as fluvoxamine and citalopram may be useful in the treatment of CBD, although current evidence is mixed.[43][44] Opioid antagonists such as naltrexone and nalmefene are promising potential treatments for CBD.[43] A review concluded that evidence is limited and insufficient to support their use at present, however.[45] Naltrexone and nalmefene have also shown effectiveness in the treatment of gambling addiction, an associated disorder.[45][46]

Historical examples[edit]

  • Mary Todd Lincoln was addicted to shopping, running up (and concealing) large bills on credit, feeling manic glee at spending sprees, followed by depressive reactions in the face of the results.[47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ OMD. (2000, March 5). Retrieved January 16, 2008, from
  2. ^ a b Kellett S., Bolton J. V. (2009). "Compulsive buying : A cognitive-behavioural model". Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy. 16 (2): 83–99. doi:10.1002/cpp.585. PMID 19229837.
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b BLACK, DONALD W (1 February 2007). "A review of compulsive buying disorder". World Psychiatry. 6 (1): 14–18. PMC 1805733. PMID 17342214.
  5. ^ R. J. Frances et al., Clinical Textbook of Addictive Disorders (2005) p. 315
  6. ^ Jon E. Grant/S. W. Kim, Stop Me Because I Can't Stop Myself (2004) p. 16
  7. ^ Rose, Paul; Segrist, Daniel J (June 2012). "Difficulty Identifying Feelings, Distress Tolerance and Compulsive Buying: Analyzing the Associations to Inform Therapeutic Strategies". International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. 11 (1): 65–68. doi:10.1007/s11469-012-9389-y. ISSN 1557-1874.
  8. ^ Hartston, Heidi J.; Koran, Lorrin M (June 2002). "Impulsive behavior in a consumer culture". International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice. 6 (2): 65–68. doi:10.1080/136515002753724045. ISSN 1471-1788. PMID 24931930.
  9. ^ Black, Donald W. (2001). "Compulsive Buying Disorder: Definition, Assessment, Epidemiology and Clinical Management". CNS Drugs. 15 (1): 17–27. doi:10.2165/00023210-200115010-00003. ISSN 1172-7047. OCLC 30488303. PMID 11465011.
  10. ^ Black, Donald W. (February 2007). "A review of compulsive buying disorder". World Psychiatry. 6 (1): 14–18. ISSN 1723-8617. OCLC 55586799. PMC 1805733. PMID 17342214.
  11. ^ Vyse, Stuart (2008). Going broke: why Americans can't hold on to their money. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-19-530699-6. OCLC 153773333.
  12. ^ Abramowitz, Jonathan S.; Houts, Arthur C. (2006). Concepts and Controversies in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. New York: Springer Science+Business Media. p. 185. ISBN 038723280X.
  13. ^ Helga Dittmar, "Understanding and Diagnosing Compulsive Buying", in Robert H. Coombs, Handbook of Addictive Disorders (2004) p. 438
  14. ^ April Lane Benson, I Shop Therefore I Am (2000)
  15. ^ Donald Black, A review of compulsive buying disorder (2007).
  16. ^ Aboujaourde/Koran, p. 8
  17. ^ April Lane Benson/Marie Gengler, "Treating Compulsive Buying" in Coombs, p. 451
  18. ^ Aboujaourde/Koran, p. 9
  19. ^ Dittmar, p. 417
  20. ^ Dennis Hayes, Beyond the Silicon Curtain (1989) p. 145
  21. ^ Elen Lewis, The eBay Phenomenon (2008) p. 95
  22. ^ April Lane Benson and Marie Gengler, "Treating Compulsive Buying", in Coombs, p. 452
  23. ^ Helga Dittmar/Emma Halliwell, Consumer Culture, Identity and Well-being (2008) p. 95-7
  24. ^ a b Dittmar/Halliwell, p. 97
  25. ^ Jenny Diski, The Sixties (London 2009) p. 18-20
  26. ^ William Gibson, Zero History (London 2010) p. 21 and p. 213
  27. ^ Dittmar/Halliwell, p. 119
  28. ^ Frances, p. 315
  29. ^ Pamela Klaffke, Spree (2004) p. 185
  30. ^ a b Klaffke, p. 185
  31. ^ Lucy Costigan, Women and Healing (2006) p. 208
  32. ^ Helga Dittmar, "Understanding and Diagnosing Compulsive Buying", in Robert H. Coombs, Handbook of Addictive Disorders (2004) p. 442
  33. ^ Oliver James, Britain on the Couch (London 1998) p. 301
  34. ^ Dittmar, p. 426
  35. ^ Dittmar, p. 424
  36. ^ Chakraborty, S.K.; Chakraborty, D. (2006). Culture, Society And Leadership. ICFAI University Press. p. 196. ISBN 9788131401170.
  37. ^ Catalano and Sonenberg, in Costigan, p. 208
  38. ^ Klaffke, p. 430
  39. ^ Bruno Zumo, Advances in quality of life research, 2001 (2002) p. 164
  40. ^ Grant/Kim, p. 36
  41. ^ Lejoyeux, Michel; Weinstein, Aviv (1 September 2010). "Compulsive Buying". The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. 36 (5): 248–253. doi:10.3109/00952990.2010.493590. PMID 20560822.
  42. ^ Wood, Heather (2003). "In the News: Retail therapy". Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 4 (9): 700. doi:10.1038/nrn1211.
  43. ^ a b Aboujaoude, Elias (2014). "Compulsive Buying Disorder: A Review and Update". Current Pharmaceutical Design. 20 (25): 4021–4025. doi:10.2174/13816128113199990618. ISSN 1381-6128. PMID 24001296.
  44. ^ Black DW (2007). "A review of compulsive buying disorder". World Psychiatry. 6 (1): 14–8. PMC 1805733. PMID 17342214.
  45. ^ a b Piquet-Pessôa, Marcelo; Fontenelle, Leonardo F. (2016). "Opioid Antagonists In Broadly Defined Behavioral Addictions: A Narrative Review". Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy. 17 (6): 1–10. doi:10.1517/14656566.2016.1145660. ISSN 1465-6566. PMID 26798982.
  46. ^ Yip, Sarah W.; Potenza, Marc N. (2014). "Treatment of Gambling Disorders". Current Treatment Options in Psychiatry. 1 (2): 189–203. doi:10.1007/s40501-014-0014-5. ISSN 2196-3061. PMC 4041397. PMID 24904757.
  47. ^ D. K. Goodwin, Team of Rivals (2013) p. 305, 401-2 and 681-2

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): 14–18. PMC 1805733. PMID 17342214.
  • 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, Edwards EA (1996). "Typologies of Compulsive Buying Behavior: A Constrained Cluster-Wise Regression Approach". Journal of Consumer Psychology. 5 (3): 231–252. doi:10.1207/s15327663jcp0503_02.
  • Elliott R (1994). "Addictive Consumption: Function and Fragmentation in Postmodernity". Journal of Consumer Policy. 17 (2): 159–179. doi:10.1007/bf01016361.
  • Faber R. J.; O'Guinn T. C.; Krych R. (1987). "Compulsive Consumption". Advances in Consumer Research. 14: 132–135.
  • Kraepelin, E. Psychiatrie (8th ed.). Leipzig: Verlag von Johann Ambrosius Barth, 1915.
  • McElroy, SL, Phillips KA, Keck PE, Jr. 1994 "Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Disorder." Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 55(10, suppl): 33-51
  • Nataraajan R., Goff B. (1992). "Manifestations of Compulsiveness in the Consumer-Marketplace Domain". Psychology and Marketing. 9 (1): 31–44. doi:10.1002/mar.4220090105.
  • Ridgway NM, Kukar-Kinney M, Monroe K (2008). "An expanded conceptualization and a new measure of compulsive buying". Journal of Consumer Research. 35 (4): 350–406. doi:10.1086/591108.


External links[edit]

  1. ^ Lam, Simon Ching; Chan, Zoe Sze-Long; Chong, Andy Chun-Yin; Wong, Wendy Wing-Chi; Ye, Jiawen (September 2018). "Adaptation and validation of Richmond Compulsive Buying Scale in Chinese population" (PDF). Journal of Behavioral Addictions. 7 (3): 760–769. doi:10.1556/2006.7.2018.94. PMID 30264602.