Is addiction to online shopping a mental illness?

New study says more than £2.5 million Brits have buying-shopping disorder

Online shopping
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Addiction to online shopping is a mental health condition, say psychiatrists.

In a study published in Comprehensive Psychiatry, researchers report that about 5% of adults in developed countries — more than 2.5 million Britons — have an extreme form of craving known as buying-shopping disorder.

After analysing patients who had sought treatment for compulsive shopping they found that 33.6% showed signs of addiction to online shopping, linking it to a “higher severity” of anxiety and depression.

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“Patients with BSD buy more consumer goods than they can afford,” said the authors of the report. “They are neither needed nor frequently used. The excessive purchasing is primarily used to regulate emotions, for example to get pleasure [or] relief from negative feelings.”

They said the rise of online shopping had aggravated the problem because the internet provided increased “availability, anonymity, accessibility, and affordability”.

Experts are divided over the report's claims.

Leon Marsh a director at Parkland Place in North Wales, which offers rehabilitation from a range of addictions including shopping, told The Times: “That buzz that shopping gives you is very similar to a first hit of drugs or first drink of alcohol. In the immediate short term, when you’re feeling low self-esteem or self worth, shopping excessively can take those feelings away.”

However, Dr Richard James, a psychology professor at the University of Nottingham, said more research is needed. He added: “There is a whole debate over whether researchers are over-pathologising behaviour – that is, are they being a bit too over-zealous in classing them as addictions? That shouldn’t be done without quite a lot of thought.”

The World Health Organisation does not classify addiction to shopping as a mental health condition, unlike gambling and video game addiction, pyromania and kleptomania.

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