Compulsive Buying: An Impulse-Control Disorder

Although not all compulsive buyers are particularly interested in such distinctions, there’s some uncertainty among the mental health profession about whether to see overshopping as a genuine disorder or merely a bad habit, and more uncertainty about whether, if it is a disorder, it aligns more closely with the obsessive-compulsive spectrum or with the impulsive-control continuum.  In the journal Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience (2010; 12(2): 175-85), D.W. Black, M. Shaw, and N. Blum make a case for seeing compulsive shopping as a legitimate disorder on the impulse-control continuum.

In their article, “Pathological gambling and compulsive buying: do they fall within an obsessive-compulsive spectrum?” the authors point out that these questions assume greater importance now because final revisions to the DSM are being prepared, revisions that will soon culminate in DSM-5. Compulsive buying has for the first time been proposed for inclusion.

Examining both compulsive buying and pathological gambling in terms of their history, definition, classification, phenomenology, family history, pathophysiology, and clinical management, Black and his colleagues conclude that neither disorder belongs on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum. They recommend that gambling be left in its present place, among impulse-control disorders, and that compulsive shopping now be added to that family.

By Carrie Rattle

Carrie Rattle is a Principal at, a website for women focused on mind and money behaviors. She has worked in the financial services industry for 20+ years and hopes to inspire women to better prepare themselves for financial independence. Read More