|By Jessica Kraft, APRN, PMHNP-BC, Psychiatric Mental-Health Nurse Practitioner, Lindner Center of HOPE|
Everyone needs to shop from time to time, but at what point does shopping become a problem? And is this a diagnosis? Compulsive buying disorder (CBD) is a mental health condition characterized by “excessive, impulsive, and uncontrollable purchase of products in spite of severe psychological, social, occupational and financial consequences”. While this diagnosis is not found in the DSM-V, shopping addiction was described and discussed clinically in the early 20th century by Bleuler and Kraepelin (Black, 2007). There is still much to be learned about the causes of CBD or shopping addiction, but several factors thought to be contributing include materialism, social anxiety, a general lack of social support, loneliness, or trauma history (Harnish, Bridges, Gump, & Carson, 2018). It is not uncommon for those with CBD to also struggle with anxiety disorders, mood disorders, substance use disorders, eating disorders, or disorders of impulse control.
Most consumers of goods take value and usefulness into consideration when making a decision about a
purchase and emotion is not often involved in the decision. This has also been referred to as “utilitarian shopping”, where someone only shops when they need something. Those who struggle with CBD more often make purchases in order to improve their mood, cope with stress, gain social approval, or improve their self-esteem. This has been referred to as “hedonic shopping” where the primary purpose of shopping is for entertainment, distraction, or pleasure. Research has shown that CBD has relation to reward sensitivity and the mesolimbic dopamine reward circuit in the brain (Günüç & Doğan Keskin, 2016). Over time this behavior becomes reinforced and can create a pattern similar to those seen with behavioral addictions like gambling, sexual addiction, or internet addiction (Granero et al., 2016).
Some might think that during a global pandemic with economic uncertainty people would be less likely to spend and work towards curbing unhealthy shopping impulses. For some who struggle with CBD, this isn’t necessarily the case. With the emphasis and ease of online ordering and curbside pick-up options combined with the increased stress that many are feeling related to the pandemic, coping with shopping addiction has been more challenging for some. This year credit and debit card use increased by 79% in May compared to April in New Zealand. As shops reopened in Australia over the summer there were “Christmas size crowds”. A recent study in the UK showed that those with underlying mental health conditions (primarily depression and anxiety) were more likely to resort to “panic buying” or compulsive buying in response to the pandemic (Jaspal, Lopes, & Lopes, 2020). Considering that loneliness is a contributing factor to compulsive buying as well as the need to cope with stress it really isn’t very surprising that the pandemic has exacerbated these unhealthy buying behaviors in those who struggle with CBD.
What are the symptoms of CBD?
- Urges to make a purchase are strong and the act of purchasing creates a “high” feeling
- Preoccupation with shopping or planning purchases
- Making a trip to the store and purchasing more items than originally intended
- Most purchases made are unnecessary items
- Debt, maxed out credit cards, or spending beyond one’s means
- Hiding purchased items from family members or friends due to guilt
- Feeling unable to stop oneself from shopping or making unnecessary purchases
What can you do to decrease urges to shop?
- Seek professional help. While there are few evidence-based treatments for CBD there has been interest and anecdotal success with antidepressants (SSRIs), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and habit reversal training (HRT)
- Join a support group or surround yourself with understanding and supportive people
- When feeling the urge to purchase something make yourself wait a minimum of 24-hours
- Declutter your space, organize, and get a better idea of what you have and what you love
- Identify and avoid triggering situations – for example, unsubscribe from e-mails from your favorite stores if this has led you to make unnecessary and impulsive purchases in the past
- Be mindful of who you follow on social media and how this influences your shopping behaviors
- When looking at an advertisement ask yourself what they are trying to sell you and how this makes you feel about yourself. For instance, does this company benefit financially from you feeling badly about yourself or wanting a different lifestyle?
Black, D. W. (2007). A review of compulsive buying disorder. World Psychiatry, 6(1), 14-18. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1805733/#B1
Granero, R., Fernández-Aranda, F., Mestre-Bach, G., Steward, T., Baño, M., del Pino-Gutiérrez, A., … Jiménez-Murcia, S. (2016). Compulsive Buying Behavior: Clinical Comparison with Other Behavioral Addictions. Frontiers in Psychology, 7(914). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00914
Günüç, S., & Doğan Keskin, A. (2016). Online Shopping Addiction: Symptoms, Causes and Effects. Addicta: The Turkish Journal on Addictions, 3(3). https://doi.org/10.15805/addicta.2016.3.0104
Harnish, R. J., Bridges, K. R., Gump, J. T., & Carson, A. E. (2018). The Maladaptive Pursuit of Consumption: the Impact of Materialism, Pain of Paying, Social Anxiety, Social Support, and Loneliness on Compulsive Buying. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 17. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-018-9883-y
Jaspal, R., Lopes, B., & Lopes, P. (2020). Predicting social distancing and compulsive buying behaviours in response to COVID-19 in a United Kingdom sample. Cogent Psychology, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/23311908.2020.1800924