Could an addiction be at play, and how would you know?
Researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway have developed a tool that might offer some answers.
Termed the Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale (BSAS), it involved a study sample of more than 23,000 male and female participants to develop.
Published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2015, the BSAS consists of seven criteria and the following five response options: completely disagree (0), disagree (1), neither disagree nor agree (2), agree (3) and completely agree (4).
To be considered a potential shopping addict, you must score ‘completely agree’ or ‘agree’ on at least four of the following seven criteria:
1. “I think about shopping/buying things all the time.”
2. “I shop/buy things in order to change my mood.”
3. “I shop/buy so much that it negatively affects my daily obligations (e.g. school and work).”
4. “I feel I have to shop/buy more and more to obtain the same satisfaction as before.”
5. “I have decided to shop/buy less, but have not been able to do so.”
6. “I feel bad if I for some reason [am] prevented from shopping/buying things.”
7. “I shop/buy so much that it has impaired my wellbeing.”
While the scale isn’t the first to measure shopping addiction, the BSAS, unlike other screening tools, is based on key addiction criteria and today’s consumer habits, making it unique.
However, given this study marks the first investigation of the BSAS and the participants were specific to Norway, it’s unclear whether the scale can be applied to other populations and further testing is needed to confirm its efficacy.
Can I really be addicted?
Shopping is easier to do now than ever.
“Modern technology has made shopping extremely accessible and convenient, with the potential of sending problematic shopping into overdrive – especially along with sociocultural factors such as social media, credit cards, and advanced marketing,” says Clinical Psychologist Cecilie Schou Andreassen, who headed the BSAS research team.
It’s worth noting that ‘shopping addiction’ doesn’t feature in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the go-to guide many mental health professionals and physicians use to diagnose patients.
“Groups of repetitive behaviours, which some term behavioural addictions [original emphasis], with such subcategories as ‘sex addiction’, ‘exercise addiction’, or ‘shopping addiction’, are not included [in the DSM-5] because at this time there is insufficient peer-reviewed evidence to establish the diagnostic criteria and course descriptions needed to identify these behaviours as mental disorders,” states the manual.
However, Dr Andreassen thinks it should be: “Given this phenomenon has a long and consistent history – it’s been debated for more than 100 years in psychological literature – involves distinct and specific behaviours, and is related to negative effects, such as financial problems, ruined relationships and sleep problems … I do believe that this kind of problematic shopping behaviour should be included in the DSM.”
Time will tell whether it gains a formal place in the manual, but for now it’s worth considering what happens in the minds of those with the urge to ‘shop till they drop’.
“The key point with any addictive behaviour – which would include shopping – is ambivalence,” says David Ryder, Clinical Psychologist and spokesperson for the Australian Psychological Society.
“People are torn between wanting to shop and not wanting to shop. We can think of this like a see-saw, with reasons to shop on one side and reasons not to shop on the other,” he adds.
“This see-saw fluctuates widely. At one time the person will be strongly committed to not shopping. But at another time they will be committed to shop.”
Of course, splurging doesn’t necessarily signal a mental problem.
“From time to time, most people shop more than usual, for example, on vacation or at Christmas, without meeting the criteria for ‘shopping addiction’. For the shopping addict, the excessive behaviour is the rule rather than the exception,” says Dr Andreassen.
Profile of a shopping ‘addict’
Dr Andreassen and her team’s shopping addiction research led to some interesting findings:
• More females are affected – “Scores on the BSAS were significantly higher among females,” wrote the researchers. Exactly why is unclear but, according to Dr Andreassen “from an evolutionary perspective it is tempting to speculate that shopping is more equivalent to the female hoarding role (e.g. collecting food) as opposed to the male hunting role. Going to a shop and buying things seems more related to the hoarding role.” Dr Ryder adds: “From a very early age, women are socialised to shopping more than men.”
• The addiction declines with age – “This may be related to learning as well as maturing of the brain … [and] the fact that people wise up with age,” says Dr Andreassen. “They also tend to become less impulsive.”
• Personality plays a role – “Our research indicates that people who score high on extroversion and neuroticism are more at risk of developing shopping addiction. Extroverts, typically being social and sensation seeking, may be using shopping to express their individuality or enhance their social status and personal attractiveness. Neurotic people, who typically are anxious, depressive, and self-conscious, may use shopping as a means of reducing their negative feelings,” says Dr Andreassen.
Shopaholic no more!
So what should you do if you have an unhealthy relationship with shopping? Consider these tips:
• Banish (or at least control) the card – “Get rid of credit cards,” says Dr Andreassen. Dr Ryder suggests giving the card to a trusted individual or setting a limit on it.
• Know what you’re buying – “Make a shopping list and stick to it,” says Dr Andreassen.
• Avoid triggers – This includes entering a shopping centre, says Dr Andreassen.
• Buddy up – “Shop with someone and not alone,” she adds.
• Relax a healthier way – “Find alternative ways to handle stress and negative feelings – seek help,” says Dr Andreassen.
• Treat ambivalence – “Make a list of the reasons for shopping and the reasons for not shopping,” says Dr Ryder. He suggests consumers carry the list with them and review it before shopping. “They should give particular thought to the reasons not to shop.”
• Manage cash-out – When possible, restrict how much you withdraw from an ATM in any one day, says Dr Ryder.
• Be kind to yourself – Shoppers shouldn’t “beat themselves up about their behaviour but instead reward themselves when they do not shop excessively”, adds Dr Ryder.
If you suspect you have a problem with shopping, consult an appropriate health professional.
Kate Cross, HealthLogix Reporter