Compulsive online shopping should be recognised as a mental disorder

Compulsive online shopping should be recognised as a mental disorder in its own right, psychologists say

  • Buying-shopping disorder is estimated to affect around 5 per cent of people
  • They have ‘irresistible’ urges and ‘craving for buying’, says psychiatry study
  • Release of dopamine encourages shoppers to repeat behaviour for the ‘high’
  • ‘Debt, dysfunctional family life and over-indulged children’ are consequences

Compulsive online shopping should be recognised as a mental disorder in its own right, psychologists say.

This is because buying-shopping disorder (BSD) has similarities to other addictions and compulsions.

The International Classification of Diseases, used by psychiatrists to classify mental illnesses, does not list it as a separate condition.

Buying-shopping disorder affects 5 per cent of people and should be given more recognition as sufferers need treatment, according to the study in the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry (file image)

But researchers say there are specific symptoms that put it in a class of its own, with a ‘sub-type’ of patients with worse symptoms who shop on the internet.

Recognising it as a separate disorder could help sufferers realise they need treatment, according to the study in the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry. The condition is estimated to affect around 5 per cent of the population. 

Compulsive shoppers have an ‘extreme preoccupation with and craving for buying’, the researchers write, and ‘irresistible’ urges to possess consumer goods, buying more than they can afford, need or use to relieve negative feelings.

But this leads to extreme distress, family disputes, clutter from hoarding of goods, debt, deception and embezzlement, say researchers who assessed 122 shopping addicts in Germany. Younger patients buying online tended to show the worst symptoms.

Shop apps draw people into online shopping, either for themselves or by excessive gifting for their friends and family (eBay app, file image)

Lead investigator Astrid Muller of Hannover Medical School said: ‘It really is time to recognise BSD as a separate mental health condition. We hope our results showing the prevalence of addictive online shopping will encourage research.’

Addictions therapist Pamela Roberts, of The Priory Hospital Woking, in Surrey, said she supported greater recognition of how harmful BSD – or oniomania – can be, affecting relationships, work, finances and emotions.

Shopping addicts experience a surge of the chemical dopamine in the brain, making them want to buy more so they can repeat the ‘high’, she said. Auction sites draw people into gambling-style shopping, while apps allow purchases round the clock.

She added: ‘People with oniomania feel completely ruled by the compulsion to shop and spend, either for themselves or by excessive gifting to others. 

The time – let alone the emotional stress – involved in searching, social media scrolling, visiting shops, juggling credit card bills, hiding purchases from family and returning goods can cause severe disruption.

‘It can lead to serious debt, dysfunctional family life, and neglected or over-indulged children.’


First named in the early 20th century, it’s an illness in which sufferers spend far beyond their means, to the point of serious financial or social difficulties.

Also known as ‘compulsive spending disorder’ or oniomania, it has been linked to other impulse disorders such as drug abuse, alcoholism, and gambling.

Sufferers may feel compelled to splash out on things they do not need, want or use because they enjoy the recognition or importance that being a big shopper brings, or to bolster low self-esteem.

One school of thought says that the purchases close the gap between how sufferers see themselves and how they want to be seen, or their ‘ideal self.’

That’s why luxury shoes, body-care goods, and expensive electrical items frequently crop up in their buying lists.

It is augmented by a materialist attitude that says a person’s self-worth comes only from what they have.

Sufferers tell themselves that the more they have—and the more expensive it is—the ‘better’ they must be.

Compulsive shoppers are particularly motivated by a desire to change their moods—for which shopping becomes an easy fix.

But the high is fleeting, and soon shoppers find themselves spending compulsively to maintain their good mood.

Source: Psychology Today 


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