Is Online Shopping Addiction Real?

Updated August 28, 2020

With all of the online marketplaces available to us, buying the things that we need is more convenient than ever. However, due to its accessibility, online shopping addiction has become a legitimate concern because people can become prone to spending more since items are right at their fingertips, and it reduces the need to leave the house. This article will cover the details about shopping addiction, why it happens, and how you or a loved one can get help.

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What Is Compulsive Shopping?

In short, online shopping addiction is caused by the inability to control one’s purchasing habits; however, there are many factors that go into the manifestation of these behaviors and cause it to persist.

This particular condition, which can go by many other names, such as pathological buying or oniomania, is similar to many other impulse control disorders like internet addictions or gambling.

In fact, like internet addiction, online shopping addiction hasn’t been officially recognized as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th edition (DSM-5), but they are all very real issues that affect millions of people around the world. Compulsive shopping, in particular, is estimated to affect around 5 percent of the global population. [1]

It’s important to note that even though the internet and shopping addictions haven’t been listed, plenty of research has and still is being carried out on these conditions, and it’s possible that they can be officially recognized in a future edition of the DSM.

For example, it was discovered that someone with a gambling disorder has the same cue-reactivity and cravings as someone with substance addiction, and therefore, a new listing in the DSM-5 called “non-substance addictions” was created. [2]

Furthermore, it has been discovered that compulsive shopping addiction shares many of the same characteristics as other substance and behavioral addictions in that they involve preoccupation, a lack of control, unsuccessful attempts to manage or stop the behavior, tolerance, withdrawal, and adverse consequences to the behaviors. [2]

People can compulsively shop for many of the same reasons why people become addicted to other activities and substances, and in the next section, you’ll learn about some of the main reasons why people develop a compulsive shopping habit.

Why Do People Become Addicted To Shopping?

As mentioned in the previous section, there are multiple factors why people can have an online shopping problem, but one of the main aspects is the individual’s feelings and emotions.

People who have an addiction to online shopping often do so because they get pleasure or relief from the activity, which is something that is very consistent with other addictions that people can experience.

However, while there are positive benefits to shopping, and it’s okay to want to experience some retail therapy once in a while, people who are addicted to online shopping can’t help themselves. They depend on shopping as a coping mechanism, and it can become a cycle of good and bad feelings and emotions. [1] Additionally, studies show that people who are upset tend to be more impulsive and spend more money. [3]

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For instance, someone might buy many things, regret their purchases later (also known as buyer’s remorse), then try to get more items to try to make them feel better again.

This can lead to people spending more than they can afford, which can cause serious financial troubles, which then makes issues like stress, anxiety, and depression worse.

In addition to being used as a way to cope, there are three factors that have been identified that make shopping online very attractive to consumers. These factors that can make people more vulnerable to compulsive shopping are: [2]

  • Avoiding social interaction and buying anonymously
  • Being able to enjoy a wide variety of items
  • Having instant gratification

On the other hand, outside of coping and having these benefits to shopping online, there are other factors that can be considered out of the person’s hands and can reinforce shopping habits.

Out of all of the addictions that are out there, shopping is most likely the most socially-acceptable one, as economies depend on people to buy things and consumerism has become ingrained in many cultures, so that makes it easy to feel okay about making purchases, but marketing tactics used by online retailers can also have a significant role in the development of compulsive shopping for millions of people.

One example of this is the use of shopping cues used by advertisements, which can be targeted to individuals based on their browsing history. These cues are designed to draw consumers in, and the excitement that comes from this is known as “cue-reactivity.”  [1]

Once you are interested in the item, online marketplaces make it very easy to add your item(s) to your cart and checkout. Many places offer “one-click” options, which make the entire transaction very seamless.

The speed at which people can purchase things, especially many items at once, can feed the addiction part of the brain by providing a rewarding effect. Also, since online retailers are always open, and people can easily use their credit cards as opposed to actual cash, it can make it very challenging to control the urge to spend.

What Are The Signs of a Shopping Addiction?

The indicators of shopping addiction are very similar to those of other addictions, including ones related to substances. These signs will be able to help you determine whether you or someone may have a compulsive shopping problem. [1]

An Inability To Control or Stop Buying Things Online

Even if you want to and try to make an attempt, the effects of shopping are powerful, and it can cause people to be unsuccessful at managing their shopping habits.

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Online Shopping Has Hurt Your Relationships, Work, and Finances

Since online shopping can cause you to overspend, this can cause financial troubles, which can then be problematic for people who depend on you.

Others Are Concerned About Your Shopping Habits

People, such as friends and family members, have pointed out your compulsive shopping, and this may have led to conflicts.

You Have A Preoccupation With Shopping

When you are not shopping, you are often thinking about it and things that you can buy in the future. You may also be thinking about your past purchases.

You Get Upset If You Can’t Shop

Like other addictions, shopping can also cause withdrawals, and it’s common for people to feel angry, upset, moody, or depressed when unable to buy something.

Online Shopping Is The Only Thing That Provides Comfort

Many people depend on shopping as a way of coping with negative feelings and emotions, and it can be their only source of relief.

You Hide Your Items From Others

People with an online shopping addiction can have a tendency to hide their purchases from others because of what they will think, such as being a waste of money.

You Feel Guilty About Shopping

While online shopping can certainly quickly uplift a person’s mood, it can also do the opposite, and it’s common for people to feel guilty or regretful about their purchases soon afterward.

Shopping Takes Away From Other Activities

Even though shopping can provide a sense of comfort, some people who get preoccupied with shopping may notice that they spend less time doing things that they enjoy, such as hobbies.

You Buy Things That You Don’t Need (Even if You Can’t Afford It)

Compulsive shoppers may needlessly spend on unnecessary items, and making purchases on credit, rather than debit or cash, can make it easy to obtain things without having funds.

Getting Help For a Shopping Addiction

Like other addiction, shopping addiction is treatable, but it’s challenging and can involve multiple strategies.

One of the primary methods of treating compulsive shopping and internet addiction is the use of a psychotherapy technique known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). [2] Since many people shop to cope with their negative feelings, CBT can help change the way you think and behave by giving you new and productive ways to cope instead of relying on online shopping. This can also include responding to stimulus cues.

Since many patients with a shopping addiction also struggle with issues such as depression, anxiety, and OCD, and these can be the root of their behaviors, CBT will also address these as well.

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Finding a therapist that can help you with addictive behaviors and other mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression is highly recommended, and at BetterHelp, licensed professionals are available online to help you overcome them and start living a happier and healthier life where you can have a better sense of control over your feelings and emotions and your shopping habits.

Additionally, other strategies that can be used to help those with a shopping addiction are having others be in control over the household shopping for a while until you get better, or tagging along with friends or family members who don’t have a shopping addiction so you can learn how to spend more carefully and learn normal shopping behaviors.

Lastly, another option is to restrict access to credit and debit cards, which are required to make purchases online. If your cards are saved online, you’ll need to remove them, but you’ll also most likely need to put the physical cards with someone that you can trust. Since many people who are addicted to shopping run into financial troubles, debt is very common, so canceling the cards may not be an option.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to find someone or a place where you can safely store your cards and still make payments on them while you get help for your online shopping addiction.

Conclusion

With all of the online marketplaces available to consumers, shopping online has become a normal part of life for millions of people, but hopefully, this article has shown you how buying things can become problematic and has helped you identify the signs of compulsive shopping. If you struggle with shopping addiction, it’s important to know that you’re not alone, and you can get control of your life back with the right help and an effective addiction recovery plan.

References

  1. Correa, G. (2020, January 22). Shopping Addiction Fueled by Online Shopping. Retrieved from https://www.addictioncenter.com/news/2020/01/shopping-addiction-online-shopping/
  2. Trotzke, P., Starcke, K., Müller, A., & Brand, M. (2015). Pathological Buying Online as a Specific Form of Internet Addiction: A Model-Based Experimental Investigation. Plos One, 10(10). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0140296
  3. Forbes. (2015, September 4). Retail Therapy: Does It Help? Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/rent/2015/09/03/retail-therapy-does-it-help/#15609b6a6c88

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