Compulsive Spending and Eating Disorders

What is Compulsive Spending?

Compulsive shopping and spending is known as behaviors that involve repetitive and chronic purchasing that can result in detrimental consequences.  Compulsive spending is known as an impulse control disorder and has similar features to other addictive illnesses, such as eating disorders and substance abuse.

Causes of Compulsive Spending

The following are factors that can contribute to compulsive spending:

  • Easy access and availability of credit
  • Material emphasis of society
  • Greater access to purchasing via online shopping and television station

Warning Signs of Compulsive Spending

If a man or woman is struggling with compulsive spending, these signs may be portrayed:

  • Buying items with credit that could not be bought with cash
  • Feelings of anxiety or excitement when spending money
  • Shopping when feeling sad, frustrated or angry
  • Frequent disagreements with loved ones about finances and spending habits
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed after purchasing
  • Excessive preoccupation with money

Anorexia and bulimia are very different psychiatric illnesses in terms of how they present. Likewise, the type of individual who gets these disorders is also quite different. Speaking very generally, anorexics tend to be rigid, perfectionistic, very “by the book.” Conversely, bulimics tend to be far more impulsive, daring and “out there.”

Compulsive spending can be a problem for both personality types, but in different ways. Being impulsive, it would not be out of character for a college girl with bulimia to find herself in the middle of an out-of-control shopping spree. Buying this, buying that, purchasing things she doesn’t really need or even want, just for the thrill of the moment. On the other hand, a career woman with anorexia may find herself addicted to buying clothes, shoes and handbags. Indirectly, this provides self nurturance. You see, food is off limits, but a designer suit especially on her size 0 body  is acceptable.

Either way, compulsive spending is an unhealthy way to deal with emotions. Not only is the distraction or the “high” very temporary, but the far-reaching financial consequences of over spending are huge: credit card debt, loss of a home, or even bankruptcy.

Remember…Spending money and buying things are just superficial activities; neither one can give you what you really need and want. True joy and peace comes from God.

Many find help for compulsive spending useful in their eating disorder treatment.

Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 25, 2012

Page last updated: June 12, 2012
Published on, Eating Disorder Information Website