Online shopping addiction 'is a real mental health condition'

Online shopping addiction is a mental health condition and should be officially recognised for its ability wreck people’s mental health and relationships, psychotherapists claim

  • People addicted to buying things were more likely to have anxiety or depression
  • Buying-shopping disorder is long-recognised but is taking on a new meaning
  • Shopping online is easy, always accessible and cheaper than real shopping

Being addicted to online shopping should be recognised as an actual mental disorder, psychotherapists have argued.

Researchers say they can pinpoint distinct symptoms and characteristics of the condition and say how it affects the mind.

‘Buying-shopping disorder’ (BSD) has been recognised for decades but experts say it is taking on a new meaning in the internet age and now affects one in 20 people.

People obsessed with spending online may end up hoarding the things they order, end up in debt, argue with loved ones and completely lose self-control.

Online shopping addiction can lead to higher rates of anxiety and depression, according to a study by researchers in Germany, so it should be recognised as an official illness (stock image)

‘It really is time to recognize BSD as separate mental health condition and to accumulate further knowledge about BSD on the Internet,’ said Dr Astrid Müller.

Dr Müller, a psychotherapist at Hannover Medical School in Germany, and her colleagues said the condition had gone unrecognised for too long.

In a study they looked at evidence from 122 patients seeking help for their online shopping addictions and found they had higher than usual rates of depression and anxiety.

They argue the rise of online stores, apps and home delivery have added an entirely new dimension to the concept of a shopaholic.

Compulsive Buying Disorder often happens alongside other mood, anxiety or eating disorders, or substance abuse. 

It often appears in the late teens or early twenties, and usually gets worse over time. 

Symptoms may include:  

  • Accumulating debt 
  • Hiding purchases from loved ones 
  • Tensions or breakdowns in relationships between friends and family 
  • Compensating for negative feelings by buying things 
  • Trying to stop shopping but unable to 

The internet has made shopping more available, anonymous, accessibility and affordability.

Shops online are working 24 hours a day, people can buy things without facing a shopkeeper or carrying them down the street, people can buy almost anything online, and sites like Amazon and Boohoo can undercut high street prices by huge amounts.

But Dr Müller and team say this means ever younger people are showing signs of buying-shopping disorder.

Currently, BSD is not classified as a disorder of its own but is part of a category named ‘other specified impulse control disorder’.

Affecting five per cent of the population and having serious mental effects, however, mean it deserves more serious attention, the German researchers said.

They explained BSD, and particularly the online form, can cause a loop of extreme cravings for buying things and satisfaction when spending money.

This can then lead to a breakdown in self-control, ‘extreme distress’, other psychiatric problems, relationship difficulties and physical clutter and debt.

Dr Müller added: ‘We hope that our results showing that the prevalence of addictive online shopping among treatment-seeking patients with BSD will encourage future research addressing the distinct phenomenological characteristics, underlying features, associated comorbidity, and specific treatment concepts.’

The research was published in the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry.

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