Cookie banner

This site uses cookies. Select "Block all non-essential cookies" to only allow cookies necessary to display content and enable core site features. Select "Accept all cookies" to also personalize your experience on the site with ads and partner content tailored to your interests, and to allow us to measure the effectiveness of our service.

To learn more, review our Cookie Policy, Privacy Notice and Terms of Use.

clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Shopping Addiction: Is It a Real Thing?

‘Your Brain on Shopping’ explores the real meaning of the word ‘shopaholic.’

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

The concept of “shopping addiction” is thrown around in jest in pop culture, from Cher Horowitz’s mall habits to Becky Bloomwood in the popular Shopaholic book series. But shopping can be a real addiction rooted in a person’s ability to exercise self-control.

As a human behavior, self-control is in the pre-frontal cortex — but that’s a relatively new, feeble part of the brain, according to researchers. We can work it like a muscle to strengthen it, but also like a muscle, it has its limits, and those “computational limits” ultimately predict our decision-making.

While most people can more or less exercise self-control when it comes to impulse shopping, an estimated 5.8 percent of the US population actually cannot. They’re the compulsive shoppers, for whom shopping isn’t just about wanting an item, but about fulfilling a deeper need — to escape, to take the edge off, to strive for perfection.

Compulsive shoppers are “in the zone,” says Ronald Faber, a professor emeritus from University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “It blocks out their thoughts and they don’t feel bad about themselves for that period.”

And like anyone with an addiction, the compulsion can lead to strained relationships, not to mention a strained pocketbook.

Follow Racked on YouTube for more videos | Like Racked on Facebook to never miss a video