Is Compulsive Shopping Really an Addiction?

Model poses as woman with online shopping addiction
Online shopping addiction is a form of compulsive shopping. Echo/Getty Images

Shopping addiction, also known as compulsive shopping, compulsive spending, compulsive buying or oniomania, is often trivialized in the media. It is portrayed as the behavior of superficial fashion victims -- invariably female -- and typified by wealthy celebrities with little more to do with their time than purchase shoes. In this context, compulsive shopping in itself doesn't appear to be a problem.

The movie "Confessions of a Shopaholic" in some ways reinforced this view, although it also contained some observations that are relevant to those suffering from problems of compulsive shopping.

Rarely is compulsive shopping taken as seriously as addiction to substances like alcohol and drugs or other behaviors, such as compulsive gambling. Is this because it is not a legitimate addiction?

Latest Developments

Although there is a large and growing body of research into compulsive shopping, unlike research into other addictions, much of the compulsive shopping research is published in journals on marketing and consumer research. These journals have a different audience, consisting mainly of marketing professionals rather than clinical professionals. Clearly, the motives of those interested in marketing and understanding consumer behavior are quite different from those who are interested in preventing and treating addictions. So, for compulsive shopping to be recognized as a disorder in its own right, it will have to be taken on as a topic worthy of research by the addiction and medical fields and studied from that perspective.

One of the latest developments in compulsive shopping research is the finding that shopping online is particularly attractive to people who are "addicted" to shopping. This is because online shopping appeals to several motivations that are particularly strong in compulsive shoppers, including the need to seek out variety in and information about products; to buy without being seen; to avoid social interactions while shopping; and to experience pleasure while shopping.

As secrecy in carrying out the activity of compulsive shopping and intense pleasure while engaging in the activity are common across all addictive behaviors, this research supports the notion that compulsive shopping is, indeed, an addiction.

Online shopping and other computer-based activities that have an addictive component, including online gambling, online porn, and video game playing, are not included in the DSM as stand-alone addictive disorders just yet.

While these "cyber-addictions" are yet to gain full recognition, that is largely a reflection of the lack of a strong record of research on which to base the required detail for developing the official criteria for mental health conditions. It does not indicate that cyber-addictions are not prevalent, problematic or that they are not taken seriously by the psychiatric community.

There is also a growing awareness of the need to help people who suffer from financial hardship as a result of compulsive shopping.

Similarities and Differences with Other Disorders

Compulsive shopping has been recognized for the past 100 years, and people with problems controlling their spending are not diagnosed with shopping addiction, although they can be diagnosed under impulse control disorder, not otherwise specified. Although compulsive shopping, along with many other behavioral addictions, was under consideration for inclusion in the DSM 5, it is not currently listed as an addictive disorder, nor as a stand-alone impulse control disorder.

Some experts have suggested that compulsive shopping is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, or that it is a type of bipolar disorder. Although there are overlaps, neither are currently accepted viewpoints.

Therefore, although shopping addiction has a long history, an it is associated with a number of mental health conditions, it is not widely recognized as a stand-alone addiction in the medical community. However, there is growing recognition of the similarities between shopping addiction and other addictions, and it may even be possible to get medical help, due to the overlap with other conditions. Certainly, compulsive shopping is something that a psychologist can help you manage.

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Article Sources
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