In today's world, we can observe the increasing popularity of a consumerist approach to life, which is one of the main causes of shopping addiction. This is largely due to the availability of online shopping, and numerous sales promotions, which often tempt us beyond our ability to resist.
The rapid development of civilisation over the past few decades has undoubtedly influenced changes in the way we live. Access to positive stimuli has led to more frequent activation of the brain's reward system. For some people, this can lead to a loss of control and other symptoms of addiction, as loss of control is directly linked to the development of addictions.
Typically, we think of addictions in the context of various substances, but increasingly, they also have behavioural roots. Behavioural addictions are disorders not directly related to the consumption of substances, such as drugs and alcohol, but to specific activities, while experiencing a lack of control over what we’re doing (Rowicka, 2005).
What is a shopping addiction?
The changes in the modern world associated with consumerism have a significant impact on the way we live and contribute to the development of addictions. One of these addictions is an addiction to shopping, characterised by compulsive and uncontrolled buying. It’s estimated that this problem may affect up to 10% of the adults (CBOS, 2012).
Compulsive shopping involves excessive or poorly controlled impulses related to spending money, which leads to negative consequences in a person’s life (Black, 2007). These behaviours temporarily reduce specific tension, alleviate negative emotions, or improve low self-esteem. Being addicted to shopping is a significant social problem that is growing year by year.
The virtual world of promotions
In today's world, we can observe the increasing popularity of a consumerist approach to life, which is one of the main causes of shopping addiction. This is largely due to the availability of online shopping, and numerous sales promotions, which often tempt us beyond our ability to resist. Marketing strategies such as "buy one, get one free" or "50% off" create a false sense that we’ve saved a lot of money. But as a result, we often end up buying many unnecessary things.
Another factor contributing to the development of shopping addiction is the rapidly evolving advertising industry and the phenomenon of fast fashion, which is the consumerism of clothing. It’s worth noting that this is one of the causes of the climate crisis.
Is shopping a way to spend your free time? Why not? After all, it provides us with short-term gratification, and gratification is always pleasant (Mukhopadhyay & Johar, 2009). The problem arises when shopping becomes excessive and intense. In this case, shopping is motivated by the desire to relieve tension and escape from negative emotions.
When we treat shopping as a way to improve our mood, we expose ourselves to the dangers of emotional addiction. During shopping, a feeling of euphoria may take place, which helps lessen negative emotions. But this euphoria quickly fades away and is often replaced by feelings of guilt or shame.
A shopping fantasy?
For people addicted to shopping, it becomes a way of escaping into fantasies. Shopping momentarily boosts their self-esteem and improves their mood while reducing their emotional experiences (Gąsiorowska, 2001). It allows them to feel better for a while. But it’s easy to guess that the long-term consequences are usually negative, as is often the case with addictions.
Impulsive or compulsive?
At this stage, it’s important to distinguish between impulsive and compulsive shopping. Impulsive shopping occasionally happens to everyone and is usually unplanned. We can resist impulsive purchases if we briefly distance ourselves from the desired product and think about the purchase.
In contrast, compulsive shopping is driven by impulses over which we have no control. The tension is so high that only buying something can make it feel better (Faber, 2010).
What contributes to a shopping addiction?
The most important causes of a shopping addiction include:
- the rapid development of civilisation and associated consumerism,
- the rapidly evolving marketing industry, advertising, and the phenomenon of fast fashion,
- tempting marketing strategies, such as promotions, sales, coupons, discounts, etc.
- the modern world's approach to happiness, which is perceived as something acquired through products,
- peer pressure and the desire to keep up with trends,
- excessive or poorly controlled impulses related to spending money,
- low self-esteem,
- individual tendencies toward addiction, including genetic predispositions to addiction.
What are the symptoms of a shopping addiction?
The most characteristic symptoms of a shopping addiction include:
- impulsive behaviours driven by an internal compulsion, such as buying unnecessary items to the point of losing control over your finances,
- constant planning of future purchases accompanied by obsessive thoughts,
- devoting significant amounts of time to browsing store offers and buying things,
- buying a large number of items, including unnecessary ones, such as clothing, cosmetics, everyday objects, food,
- using shopping as a way to improve a negative mood, leading to an emotional addiction,
- allocating a significant amount of money to satisfy shopping needs,
- an irresistible compulsion to shop and the immediate relief of tension after making a purchase, followed by feelings of guilt or shame.
The consequences of being addicted to shopping
Being addicted to shopping is a behavioural addiction that negatively impacts various aspects of our daily lives. In the case of this addiction, we often observe:
- deterioration in social functioning: isolating yourself from family and friends, and engaging in conflicts with others,
- neglecting household and professional responsibilities due to prioritising shopping,
- mood swings, when unable to go shopping,
- financial problems and accumulating debt.
What if you’re struggling with a shopping addiction?
How can you recognise if your shopping tendencies are already an addiction? First and foremost, observe how you feel when you go into a store. Why do you go shopping? What feelings accompany you immediately after buying something?
Going shopping during moments of anger, loneliness, or in pursuit of euphoria should be a cause for concern. Purposefully increasing the level of adrenaline and endorphins (the popular happiness hormones) makes the activity appear extremely exciting and tempting. But it’s important to remember that this is also a key sign of a shopping addiction.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy has proven to be highly effective in treating behavioural addictions, including shopping addictions. During the therapeutic process, methods are developed to break free from the addiction. Therapists help patients understand how thoughts can influence feelings and behaviours. Therapy aims to analyse problematic behaviours and habits, as well as modify negative thinking patterns.
If you’ve noticed that your shopping addiction is negatively impacting your actions, your relationships with others, and your daily life, this is paradoxically a positive sign. It means you’re aware of the problem, and awareness is the first step towards change.
If your previous attempts to cope with irresistible shopping compulsions haven’t worked, it might be a good idea to look for professional help. Remember that psychologists and therapists are there to help in exactly these situations. Seeking help from a specialist is always a good solution.