Recognising the signs of compulsive shopping: let's talk about oniomania

Compulsive shopping, the out-of-control need to spend, buy, buy more and more, so much so that you sometimes don’t know what to do with what you’ve got

It is also known by the term oniomania, coined by the German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin. Kraepelin, with Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler, first identified the symptoms associated with oniomania during the late 19th century.

It was the American psychiatrist S.L. McElroy, in particular, who dealt with this phenomenon, proposing the following diagnostic criteria to distinguish people who practice shopping as a normal activity from those for whom it takes on pathological characteristics:

  • the non-adaptive preoccupation, impulse or behaviour of buying experienced as irresistible, intrusive or senseless; frequently buying beyond one’s means unnecessary (or unneeded) objects, for a longer period of time than one had planned;
  • the worry, impulse or act of buying causes marked stress, consumes time, significantly interferes with social and work functioning or leads to financial problems (indebtedness or bankruptcy);
  • excessive buying does not occur exclusively during periods of mania or hypomania.

A group of psychologists from the University of Bergen (Norway), in collaboration with other American and British universities, have tried to draw up a list of indicative symptoms and have identified seven that can be used to make a self-diagnosis depending on the score.

A test, described in a paper published in Frontiers in Psychology.

Lead researcher Cecilie Schou Andreassen also indicated the psychological profile of those most likely to fall into this trap.


It is mainly women who are affected.

The disorder begins to appear in late adolescence and early adulthood, and then declines with age.

Women who are either very extroverted or affected by problems of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

Women belonging to the first group are said to be inclined to shop uncontrollably in order to show off in society, to express their expansive personality, and to want to count more socially.

Women belonging to the second group may be driven to unrestrained shopping between shop windows in order to cheer themselves up.

To use the ‘shopping spree’ almost as a medicine to turn off anxiety. Sometimes, however,” Dr Andreassen notes, “these symptoms of malaise are not the cause but the result of not being able to control oneself in the shops”.

Feelings of guilt and shame are often associated with compulsive shopping for all kinds of objects, which are most often put aside or given away as gifts or thrown away.


  • Thinking about shopping all the time
  • Buying to change your mood
  • Buying so much that shopping interferes with daily tasks (e.g. school or work)
  • Feeling the need to buy more and more to get the same satisfaction as before
  • Deciding to buy less, but not being able to do so
  • Feeling bad if for some reason you can’t go shopping
  • Buying so much that you put your well-being at risk


Online compulsive shopping (Online shopping addiction) is one of the Internet addictions developed in the observation-research phase of Lavenia’s evolutionary model.

In this phase, the person uses the Internet passively, consulting its contents without contributing any of their own.

People with an online compulsive shopping addiction do not buy for the pleasure of making a new purchase, but experience a state of increasing tension, whereby the desire to buy turns into an uncontrollable impulse.

Objects of all kinds are bought, but very often they are immediately put aside or thrown away, and the person experiences deep feelings of guilt and shame.

S.L. McElroy, in 1994, proposed 4 characteristics that distinguish people who practice online shopping as a pathological activity:

  • the preoccupation, impulse or behaviour of buying online is experienced as irresistible, intrusive or senseless;
  • buying unnecessary (or unnecessary) items frequently above one’s means;
  • the worry, impulse or act of buying online causes stress, significantly interferes with social and work functioning or leads to financial problems (indebtedness or bankruptcy);
  • excessive buying does not occur exclusively during periods of mania or hypomania (in the case of bipolar mood disorder).

There are a number of elements that favour the onset of online shopping addiction:

  • the possibility of finding rare and unusual objects on the internet;
  • the elimination of human intermediation via the network;
  • the use of credit cards or alternative payment methods such as Paypal, which increase the ease of online shopping and reinforce compulsive behaviour;
  • the possibility of participating in virtual auctions.

A French study (Duroy et al, 2014) on a sample of Parisian university students showed that compulsive online shopping can be defined as a real behavioural disorder with specific characteristics of loss of control, altered motivation and a significant impact on time management and finances.


Compulsive shopping can be addressed with psychotherapy aimed at identifying the underlying issues and breaking the vicious cycle between the person and the purchase of objects on which they depend.

Planning appropriate therapy for compulsive shopping disorder should take into account gender and potential psychiatric comorbidities (Nicoli de Mattos et al., 2016).

Identified by some researchers as a compulsion and by others as an addiction, compulsive shopping disorder can be treated with drug therapy, participation in self-help groups and cognitive behavioural therapy.

It is important to consult a specialist in order to understand whether or not one’s buying behaviour represents a pathology (Lee & Mysyk, 2004).

In recent years, a new disorder has been identified called impulse-compulsive buying disorder (ICBD), which is an impulse control disorder not otherwise specified and is characterised by compulsive drives and behaviours (buying unnecessary goods), personal distress, impaired social and professional functioning, and financial problems.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are currently considered the most effective treatments for this emerging disorder (Dell’Osso et al., 2008).

Article written by Dr Letizia Ciabattoni


Emergency Live Even More…Live: Download The New Free App Of Your Newspaper For IOS And Android

Trichotillomania, Or The Compulsive Habit Of Pulling Out Hair And Hairs

Impulse Control Disorders: Kleptomania

Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED): What It Is And How To Treat It


Schreiber L, Odlaug BL, Grant JE., Impulse control disorders: updated review of clinical characteristics and pharmacological management., in Front Psychiatry., Feb 21;2:1, 2011

G.Lavenia, Internet e le sue dipendenze, Franco Angeli Editore, Milano 2012 ISBN 978-88-568-4809-0

  1. Lavenia, M. Marcucci, A. Di Ruggero – Quaderni di Psichiatria, Psicologia e Psicoterapia Nosto, Mediateca delle Marche, 2006

(EN) McElroy, S.L., Keck, P.E., Phillips, KA . Kleptomania, compulsive buying and binge eating disorder, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 1995, 56, 14-27

(EN) McElroy, S.L., Keck, P.E., Pope, H.G. et. al. Compulsive buying: A report on 20 cases, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 1994, 55, 242-248

  1. Marino, E. Barozzi, C.Arrigone, Shopping Compulsivo: l’altra faccia dello shopping edizioni Odòn, 2013
You might also like