A new study has found that one-third of patients seeking treatment for a buying-shopping disorder (BSD) also reported symptoms of addictive online shopping.
“It really is time to recognize BSD as separate mental health condition and to accumulate further knowledge about BSD on the Internet,” said lead investigator Astrid Müller, MD, PhD, from the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at Hannover Medical School in Germany.
BSD is characterized as “other specified impulse control disorder” in the recently released 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases. In the U.S., there remains disagreement about whether compulsive shopping and buying constitutes a distinct behavioral disorder like compulsive gambling, and it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). More research has been called for to clarify its status.
Müller said the disorder afflicts an estimated five percent of the population. It is characterized by extreme preoccupation with and craving for buying and shopping, as well as irresistible urges to possess consumer goods, researchers explain. Patients with the disorder buy more consumer goods than they can afford, need, or use.
Their excessive purchasing serves to regulate emotions, for instance, to increase pleasure, get relief from negative feelings, or cope with self-discrepancy.
In the long run, the breakdown in self-control leads to extreme distress, psychiatric comorbidity, family discord, clutter due to pathological hoarding of goods, and indebtedness and/or deception and embezzlement to enable continued spending despite insufficient finances.
As e-commerce has gained increasing popularity as a primary method for buying and shopping for goods over the past decade, a need has developed for mental health experts to explore whether traditional BSD manifests differently in the online retail market, the researchers noted. The Internet offers a vast variety of shopping information and simultaneous access to many online stores, meeting expectations for immediate reward, emotional enhancement, and identity gain, they said.
Previous studies have suggested that certain Internet-specific aspects of buying and shopping, such as availability, anonymity, accessibility, and affordability, contribute to the development of an online subtype of BSD. But there are few studies investigating addictive online shopping as a characteristic of the disorder related to the problematic use of the Internet.
The new study, which analyzed data from earlier studies on 122 treatment-seeking patients, is among the first to quantify and explore the phenomenon of online shopping in patients who meet the criteria for the new disorder, according to the researchers.
“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,” Müller stated.
The study was published in Comprehensive Psychiatry, published by Elsevier.