In the Digital Era, it is almost impossible to avoid doing some shopping online, as many online stores carry things you might want or need that are not easy to find in regular brick-and-mortar shops. Online shopping provides many individuals the ease and comfort of finding what they need without having to make the trek to the store. For many people, online shopping presents relatively few issues. However, there is an addictive element to online shopping. While online shopping addiction can be difficult to recognize and treat, there is hope. Overcoming this addiction, however, has to start with understanding why it occurs.
What Is Online Shopping Addiction?
Sometimes referred to as pathological buying or purchasing, an online shopping addiction can be described as the compulsive act of buying things that they do not need online. It is similar to shopping addiction save for the fact that many online shopping addicts tend to shop almost exclusively online (although this is not true for everyone).
With about 5-8% of Americans reporting a shopping addiction, it is no small wonder that many individuals are becoming engrossed with online shopping. Online shopping takes the hassle out of going to the store and, for those who tend to avoid social interactions, makes it easier for them to remain isolated.
Online shopping addiction is, for some people, easier to hide. The shame and guilt that those with a shopping addiction experience can cause them to want to conceal their spending habits. Since online shopping is typically private, it makes it harder for friends and family to catch the compulsive behaviors as they are happening.
Symptoms of Online Shopping Addiction
As of right now, there simply is not enough hard-and-fast scientific evidence for the American Psychological Association (APA) to include online shopping addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, there are several crucial components of shopping addiction that tend to make themselves known.
Some of the signs to be aware of include:
- Feeling unable to control spending habits;
- Personal and/or work relationships receiving a negative impact from shopping habits (for example, arguing with a spouse when they express concern);
- Buying things that are not needed or planned for;
- Buying items in excess of what is needed;
- Spending an increasing amount of time shopping online and not taking part in things that were once enjoyable;
- Spending a lot of time thinking about online shopping;
- Feeling guilty or ashamed after shopping online;
- Feeling irritated when unable to shop online;
- Hiding the online purchases and/or receipts from others due to shame and/or guilt;
- Feeling that only online shopping relieves negative thoughts or emotions.
It is important to recognize that, while many people might exhibit a few of these signs, someone with an online shopping addiction will experience multiple factors. Their feelings of shame and/or guilt might intensify as their impulse control lessens, and this could result in that person projecting emotions such as anger onto those around them.
Causes of Online Shopping Addiction
Why is it that some people become addicted to shopping online and others do not? Science does not yet have a solid answer. However, there are some parallels that can be drawn between shopping addictions and other deeply-rooted issues. Those who were neglected as children, who grew up in low-income households, who are constantly seeking approval from others, or who are searching for a way to assert control over an aspect of their life might be somewhat more prone to a shopping addiction.
Many factors can cause pathological purchasing. In fact, as one study found, many people (47.4 percent of respondents in the study) reported feeling an adrenaline rush while shopping. On top of that, some people shop as a means to elevate their mood (11 percent indicated this in the study). In other words, as sometimes is the case with other types of addictions, shopping becomes a way to perceivably relieve emotional pain or stress. Of course, the more addictive online shopping becomes, the harder it might seem to control these negative emotions, which could intensify over time.
Other Issues Related to Online Shopping Addiction
Online shopping addiction has been linked to a number of other psychological issues, including social anxiety and body dysmorphia. Those with body dysmorphia and/or anxiety disorders might avoid going out into brick-and-mortar stores to try on clothes. Looking in the mirror when trying clothes on can be, for someone with body dysmorphia, a traumatic and emotional experience. In these cases, exposure therapy could be a possible solution, if the individual can get over their initial surge of anxiety.
Online shopping takes away the deterrent that some people feel about shopping in person. While not all who have anxiety or body dysmorphia become addicted to online shopping, it can happen.
Online Shopping Addiction Treatment Options
There is a growing awareness of online shopping addiction and, therefore, an ever-expanding list of resources for those seeking treatment. One of the most popular counseling methods is through a form of psychotherapy known as exposure therapy. In this method, a counselor works with a client to identify and assess the negative thoughts and emotions that arise and cause certain actions. Then, the counselor and client work to illustrate and implement more positive and ultimately realistic thoughts as a way to change the unwanted behaviors.
Additionally, those with online shopping addictions might try to delete their shopping accounts and/or create budget plans to guide their recoveries.
Examples of Online Shopping Addiction
Ruthie Friedlander, in feeling an adrenaline rush while shopping, details her struggles with shopping addiction. She refers to one spree as “The Great Binge of 2015” and tells of how she lied to others to conceal the severity of her addiction. Friedlander was living alone at the time and did not need to hide price tags or receipts. While Friedlander admits that her addiction has no cure, there are ways of working through it.
Online shopping addiction is, despite not being a disorder found in the DSM-5, a very real and damaging addiction. It often signals more deeply-rooted emotions or perceptions of an internal void that needs to be filled. Through constructive, therapeutic means, those with an online shopping addiction can begin overcoming these impulses.
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