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The fasting growing addiction in the US is online shopping.  Ads pop up on our social media, news feeds and email. Boxes pile up in your closet of unopened packages.  And then one day you notice you purchased the same item twice! Are you addicted to online shopping or any shopping for that matter?  Let’s break down this latest epidemic.

What is Compulsive Spending Disorder?

A “Compulsive Buying Disorder (CBD)” was first described in the early 20th century as a compulsive disorder that left the patient with debt.  Later in the century its classification was debated and eventually included with the personality disorders.

Compulsive buying is known as “oniomania” where one buys impulsively and excessively to the point that it leaves them in financial hardship.  And despite their financial issues they continue to make purchases.  We’ve used the term “shopaholics” to describe those addicted to shopping but compulsive buying connotes the lack sense of financial ruin that can ensue. The spending is an attempt to satisfy a need that never gets fulfilled.

Compulsive buying disorder may be seen in those who suffer from mania and bipolar disorder.  During manic episodes excessive spending may occur.  Additionally we may see CBD co-morbidly in those who suffer from eating, gambling, substance use, and mood disorders.

What is Compulsive Online Shopping?

Compulsive online shopping occurs when purchases are made online, without much thought or planning, and at a frequency where it may interfere with one’s life.  People who might have never become a compulsive shopper in a traditional store may become easily addicted to online shopping.  Those who are compulsive online shoppers may exhibit any of the following:

  • Preoccupation with when they can go online to search items
  • Anxiety when one cannot go online
  • Purchasing items they don’t necessarily need
  • Spending beyond their budget
  • Hiding their shopping behavior
  • Feeling guilt after shopping
  • Struggling at work or at home because of the time devoted to online shopping
  • Other addictive or impulsive behaviors such as binge eating, drinking, or substance abuse

So compulsive online shopping, as well as compulsive buying disorder, can affect relationships, employment, finances and health.

How many people suffer from Compulsive Online Shopping Disorder?

Various sources have put the range at 5-8% of the US population.

Why are people becoming addicted?

When one is able to shop in the comfort of one’s desk or work station, the “ease” factor drives more shopping.  Avoiding the need to leave work or home to battle traffic and weather and long lines, is one of the biggest draws.  Moreover, those who hate going into a store or dressing room, concerned others will see the sizes of clothes they are trying on, can now shop in the privacy in their own home.  Additionally shopping allows one to fight the boredom they have at work or home and give one a sense of accomplishment.  And once one has a successful and satisfying purchase, the reward centers of the brain are activated making one want to shop more.

Hence, shrewd marketing will appeal to the human psyche by any of the following:

  • Displaying or popping up attractive ads on your browser or social media
  • Disrupting your feed, reading material or game with above ads
  • Following your likes, searches or prior purchases and suggesting related products
  • Offering deals and coupons that can be used immediately
  • “Rewarding” the buyer with positive feedback after the purchase such as, “You SAVED 15%!”
  • Allowing the purchase to be done so quickly and easily that one has less of an opportunity to ponder the purchase
  • Sending reminders of a reorder

So how can one avoid becoming a compulsive online shopper?

Don’t give in to the ads.  People must realize they are being bombarded with some of the most creative marketing manipulation known to mankind.  We can’t fall for it.  Why are we letting our smart devices dictate to us what we need in our closets, pantries or garages?

But to fight the urge to shop online excessively, we must:

  • Budget expenditures and stick to it
  • Have hobbies
  • Avoid boredom, or going to the internet when bored
  • Limit internet time
  • Stop ads and unsubscribe on out tablet or smart phone
  • Deputize a family member to be our go-to when we want authorization to purchase something online.
  • Ask ourselves prior to purchasing:  Do I really need this item?
  • Seek counseling if unable to stop
If needed, compulsive shopping can be treated with therapy as well as medications including SSRI’s, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which are efficacious in those with impulsive personalities or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP