News, Culture & Society

Excessive buying and shopping can constitute a disorder, experts say

Shopaholics really do exist! Scientists confirm that excessive buying and shopping can be so serious it should constitute a disorder

  • Experts announce framework to diagnose compulsive buying-shopping disorder
  • It determines at what point excessive buying can be classified as the disorder  
  • It’s thought shopping addicts buy in excess in an attempt to improve their mood 

Excessive buying and shopping can be serious enough to constitute a disorder, an international team of psychologists and clinicians has confirmed. 

The experts have built the first framework to diagnose the ‘debilitating condition’, which is called ‘compulsive buying-shopping disorder’ (CBSD). 

People obsessed with shopping and spending may end up hoarding the things they buy without using them and ultimately end up in debt.

It’s also thought sufferers use the act of buying as a way to improve their mood, as a form of treat or reward, much like some eating disorders.  

The experts hope a diagnosis will help people struggling to manage their spending behaviour and improve their mental well-being.  

For the first time, international experts in psychology have built a framework to diagnose compulsive buying-shopping disorder (CBSD). People obsessed with spending may end up hoarding the things they buy and end up in debt


Compulsive Buying Disorder often happens alongside other mood, anxiety or eating disorders, or substance abuse. 

It often appears in the late teens or early twenties, and usually gets worse over time. 

Symptoms may include:  

  • Accumulating debt 
  • Hiding purchases from loved ones 
  • Tensions or breakdowns in relationships between friends and family 
  • Compensating for negative feelings by buying things 
  • Trying to stop shopping but unable to 

The international initiative has been led by Professor Mike Kyrios from Flinders University’s Órama Institute for Mental Health and Wellbeing. 

‘Clients who show excessive buying behaviour commonly have difficulties in regulating their emotions, so buying or shopping is then used to feel better,’ he said.

‘Paradoxically, if someone with compulsive buying-shopping disorder goes on a shopping trip, this will briefly improve their negative feelings, but will soon lead to strong feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment.’ 

The phenomenon of excessive or uncontrolled buying or shopping has been described in a clinical setting for more than a century.

But to date there is no formally accepted diagnosis for the disorder, despite being a ‘prevalent and disabling’ problem that contributes to overconsumption and debt.

CBSD is also a growing problem, fuelled by consumerism and the usability of online shopping sites, such as Amazon and clothing retailer Boohoo. 

‘In over 20 years, since I started investigating excessive buying, there has been an absence of commonly agreed diagnostic criteria,’ Professor Kyrios said.

‘[This] has hampered the perceived seriousness of the problem, as well as research efforts and consequently the development of evidence-based treatments.’ 

This will now be possible with the new framework, which essentially represents an agreement between 138 of the world’s leading experts from 35 countries on diagnostic criteria for the disorder.

The new framework determines at what point shopping becomes CBSD and can be used ‘as the basis for the development of diagnostic interviews and measures of CBSD severity’.  

A key feature of the new diagnostic criteria is ‘excessive purchasing of items without utilising them for their intended purposes’.

Excessiveness is described as ‘diminished control over buying/shopping’. 

Another characteristic of the disorder is that ‘buying/shopping is used to regulate internal states, e.g., generating positive emotions or relieving negative mood’. 

Has your online shopping rocketed during lockdown? A new framework could officially diagnose you as a compulsive buyer

Has your online shopping rocketed during lockdown? A new framework could officially diagnose you as a compulsive buyer

The Delphi research method was used to reach consensus from the panel of experts on what they say is a very complex psychological disorder.

‘The Delphi technique is an ideal method to integrate diverse perspectives from international and interdisciplinary experts in the field of compulsive buying-shopping disorder,’ said co-investigator Dr Dan Fassnacht, senior lecturer in psychology at Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia.

‘This helped us to developed diagnostic criteria featuring large agreement among experts in the field, and is an important milestone to better understand and treat this behaviour.’ 

Professor Kyrios describes the study as a ‘game-changer’ for research in the area of excessive buying, providing a springboard for treatments and better diagnostic processes in future.

The new guidelines have been published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.  


Online fashion giant Boohoo has revealed a 41 per cent surge in revenue to £1.75 billion, for the year ending February 28. 

The firm benefited from the online shopping boom during lockdown, with Britons spending millions on lounge and sportswear while stuck at home.

The retailer, founded by billionaire Mahmud Kamani, said the £1.75 billion was up from £1.23 billion in the previous year.

Boohoo, which recently bought Debenhams, Dorothy Perkins, Burton and Wallis and was rocked by the Leicester sweatshop scandal, told shareholders on May 5 that pre-tax profits were also lifted by 35 per cent to £124.7 million.

Boohoo has also said it is seeing ‘early rewards’ after snapping up Debenhams and three Arcadia brands in rescue deals as it unveiled strong trading for the past year.

It was also revealed at the start of May that Brits splashed £93 billion on online shopping in 2020 alone – up from £64billion in 2019, according to the United Nations, as Britain’s shuttered high streets were decimated by the pandemic.