Shopping addiction is a form of non-substance-based behavioral addiction centered on dysfunctional, damaging participation in shopping activities. There is no official definition for this condition in the U.S., although the American Psychiatric Association once recognized a similar condition called compulsive buying disorder.
In a study published in June 2014 in the Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, a team of American researchers explored the usefulness of a potential treatment for shopping addiction/compulsive buying that combines several psychotherapeutic techniques known to provide a benefit for people affected by other forms of substance-based and non-substance-based addiction.
The principle behind shopping addiction is essentially the same as the principle behind all forms of behavioral addiction (or addictive disorder). People who develop this type of non-substance-related addiction start to experience unusual problems when participating in pleasurable, commonplace activities that most people find harmless.
For a number of potential reasons, an affected person can start to repeatedly rely on the pleasure produced by his or her activity participation. In turn, this repeated reliance can lead to lasting changes in brain function as well as patterns of behavior that cause the person significant distress and/or damage his or her ability to carry out a normal daily routine.
In addition to shopping, pleasurable activities that can serve as the origin point for a behavioral addiction include gambling, eating high-fat or high-sugar food, having sex and using the Internet.
Compulsive buying disorder
Researchers have known for at least 100 years that some people develop unusual problems while participating in common shopping activities. One of the earlier terms used to describe these problems was oniomania. The widely used American Psychiatric Association (APA) guidebook, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM, contained a reference to compulsive buying disorder for a few years up until the 1990s. The condition was not listed as a behavioral addiction (which the APA did not recognize at the time); instead, it received classification as a form of non-specific impulse control disorder.
Is there effective treatment for shopping addiction?
The combination of psychotherapeutic techniques under consideration as a treatment for shopping addiction/compulsive buying disorder includes cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing and mindfulness training.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people recognize their damaging patterns of behavior and establish future patterns of conduct that don’t have the same harmful effect. Motivational interviewing (sometimes known as motivational enhancement therapy) helps people in need of treatment overcome any existing conflicts about receiving appropriate care.
Among other things, mindfulness can help people participating in treatment achieve a more centered mental perspective and reduce stress levels that may interfere with successful outcomes. Participants usually go through a 12-week course of treatment geared to address their shopping-related issues.
In the study published in the Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, researchers from Long Island University-Brooklyn, the College of Mount Saint Vincent and two private organizations used a small-scale project to investigate the potential usefulness of the combined psychotherapeutic approach to treatment. A total of 11 people involved in this project went through a 12-week course of this approach, while the members of a similarly sized comparison group were placed on a waiting list instead of receiving the treatment.
The researchers relied on three screening tools to identify symptoms of shopping addiction/compulsive buying in the two groups of study participants. In addition, they asked the participants to track their purchasing behaviors. At the end of the 12-week treatment period, the researchers compared the outcomes in the treatment group and the non-treatment group.
They concluded that the individuals who took part in the shopping addiction program experienced a significant decline in their compulsive buying symptoms, including a reduction in the money spent on new purchases, the amount of time dedicated to making purchases and the number of episodes in which uncontrolled buying behaviors appeared. When the researchers conducted a follow-up assessment half a year later, these benefits were still evident in the group that received treatment.