Shopping addiction may be classified as a mental illness

Grace Dean looks at calls to classify shopping addiction

Grace Dean
18th December 2019
Image: Pixabay

People who regularly buy unnecessary items or spend money in an out-of-control-way could be suffering from what may become a medically-recognised addiction.

Some experts believe that shopping addiction, which is medically referred to as “oniomania”, “compulsive buying disorder” (CBD) or buying-shopping disorder (BSD), should be classified as a mental illness. Most CBD sufferers have described experiencing an increasing craving to spend or anxiety that can only be eased by making a purchase, while others discuss using shopping to cope with negative emotions, though some sufferers experience guilt or embarrassment afterwards and go to extreme lengths to hide their purchases from others. The disorder is currently classified as an “other specified impulse control disorder”, unlike kleptomania, pyromania and gambling addiction, which are all medically categorised as mental illnesses.

Interestingly the disorder can develop regardless of income, and the purchases are not necessarily experience, though many of these compulsive shoppers buy in large quantities.

This desire for medical recognition of shopping addiction as a mental illness follow hot on the footsteps of the World Health Organisation officially classifying named obsessively playing video games as a mental health condition just a few weeks ago.

The calls for shopping addiction to be treated in a similar way have come following a recent study by Hannover Medical School, which showed that up to 7% of adults display compulsive buying issues to some extent, and proved that numbers in America and Europe have risen in the past two decades. Another study estimates that approximately 5% of adults in developed countries suffer to some extent from CBD to some extent.

The Hannover Medical School's analysis of 122 people seeking treatment for the related buying-shopping disorder (BSD), which is currently classified as an “other specified impulse control disorder”, discovered that one third have reported symptoms of addictive online purchasing. It is feared that the accessibility of online shopping and the ability to buy goods "around the clock" has caused many more people to suffer from compulsive buying traits.

In conversation with the Daily Mail, Professor Astrid Mueller, a clinical psychologist with a special interest in addiction at Hannover Medical School, argued that “it’s time to recognise compulsive shopping disorder as a separate mental health condition, which will help us develop better treatments and diagnosis methods."

This was supported by Mark Griffiths, professor of behavioural addiction at Nottingham Trend University, who added that “there is now good evidence that a small number of individuals engage in compulsive buying (often referred to as ‘shopping addiction’)."

He further stated that more research needs to be done in this area in the future: “While there is evidence from many countries that the disorder exists, the quality of the research is highly variable and more high quality research and clinical studies need to be done before it can be given an official diagnosis as a mental disorder. 

“Arguably one type of compulsive buying (ie gambling disorder) is already recognised and accepted as a mental disorder by most mainstream medical and psychiatric authorities, so there is a good chance that compulsive buying more generally may be recognised in the future.”

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AUTHOR: Grace Dean
Editor-in-Chief of the Courier 2019/20, News Editor 2018/19, writer since 2016 and German & Business graduate. I've written for all of our sections, but particularly enjoy writing breaking news and data-based investigative pieces. Best known in the office for making tea and blasting out James Blunt. Twitter: @graceldean

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