What Is The Medical Term For People Who Shop Too Much?

Light blue background with Alicia Silverstone from the movie "Clueless" holding shopping bags

It’s likely that you know someone who might be a shopaholic.

Perhaps you think that she has a superhuman stamina for long lines, crowded malls, and late-night purchasing. Or perhaps you think he just doesn’t know when to quit, spending way past his budget.

What is a shopaholic?

Shopaholic is an informal term usually applied with humor. It dates back to the 1940s, when it emerged as a combination of shop and -aholic. The word shop comes from the Old English term sceoppa (“stall, booth”) and is related to the Middle Dutch schoppe (“stall”). The combining form -aholic is based on alcoholic and denotes “a person who has an addiction to or obsession with some object or activity.”

⚠️ Please note: The term alcoholic and its derivations that use the form -aholic (e.g., workaholic) are sometimes considered offensive; referring to people with addictions as addicts or alcoholics reduces them to a label—one that has long connoted moral failure and weakness of character—and to a single trait. You can learn more about the recent changes we made to our definition of alcoholic here

What is the medical term for a shopaholic?

There is, though, an actual medical term for people who have an uncontrollable and compulsive desire to shop: oniomania.

Oniomania comes from the Greek onios, which means “for sale,” and mania, which means “insanity.”

Examples of the word shopaholic

Some of you may recognize the word from the popular book series from the 2000s by Sophie Kinsella. The series has 10 books—one of which has been made into a movie, Confessions of a Shopaholic—and follows the adventures of devout shopper Becky Bloomwood. As Becky herself says in the first novel, “Shopping is actually very similar to farming a field. You can’t keep buying the same thing, you have to have a bit of variety. Otherwise you get bored and stop enjoying yourself.”

Here are examples of the word shopaholic in use:

  • “Bernadine had told Savannah that the girl was a die-hard shopaholic and terrible at managing her money.” (Waiting to Exhale, 1992)
  • “In addition to perpetual feelings of ennui, the materialist runs the risk of burgeoning into a full-blown shopaholic, a person so obsessed with buying that they fall into debt and suffer dire personal consequences.” (Psychology Today, May/June 2007)
  • “My boyfriend’s mother drives me bananas. She’s a shopaholic, status-conscious snob, and I guess I’m not up to her standards because she’s forever finding ways to insult me.” (Cosmopolitan, August 2002)

Compulsive shopping hasn’t been studied to the same extent as other dependencies or addictions. However, some people consider it to be a very serious and widespread problem that can cause grave social, financial, and emotional effects. And, again, note that some people may find shopaholic offensive—and recommending not using it and other -(a)holic blends words—as it can be seen to make light of addiction and related diseases and disorders and the people who experience them.

The language we use can be costly as well. That’s why we choose to avoid the term addict. Read about why that matters here.

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