Oniomania, also referred to as compulsive shopping, is the excessive and uncontrollable desire to purchase items. In the US where spending and credit are part of the national pastime, oniomania is often viewed by others as the oniomaniac being financially irresponsible. This leaves many oniomaniacs to fend for themselves with little to no support when dealing with their problem. Due to this lack of understanding, the disorder can linger for years without sufferers getting the medical attention they need.
It’s estimated that just under 10% of people living in the US suffer from oniomania. The vast majority are women (80% – 90%) with the typical oniomaniac being a woman in her early to mid-30s. She usually has several credit cards that are are at their limit or very close to being so. She usually comes from a family that earns a low to middle-income.
Oniomania can have both financial and psychological devastating effects. The disorder almost always leads to financial problems, overspending and bad credit. It also creates mental and emotional difficulties which result from the over spending.
Most mental health professionals do not consider oniomania an addiction. Unlike alcohol or drugs, there is no physical dependency. Oniomaniacs do, however, often times display a variety of addictive behaviors and many have been addicted to other things in the past.
Oniomania usually begins with depression or some other emotional distress. These emotions set off an impulse for the oniomaniac to shop. The shopping gives a type of euphoria which reduces the emotional distress they are feeling. After the shopping is over, the euphoria wears off and there is a letdown. The letdown is usually followed by guilt and depression over the wasted money and increasing debt which starts the cycle all over again.
Even when the symptoms of oniomia are recognized, treatment for it is often difficult. Since it’s impossible to stop shopping altogether, the treatment has to be dealt with is a similar fashion to eating disorders. This is accomplished by bringing the shopping to a healthy level through counseling and support.
While there are a number steps a compulsive shopper can take on their own to help reduce their shopping to normal levels (avoid credit cards, limit their exposure to advertisements, etc), ultimately professional psychological help is needed to tackle the problem. Proper treatment helps to make sure that the oniomaniacs don’t simply stop their compulsive shopping and replace it with another compulsive habit. If you believe that you or someone you know may have oniomania, it’s important to contact a counselor or mental health professional to seek help.