Priory psychotherapist Pamela Roberts says yes
“Is shopping addiction real? Yes. As someone who has seen the devastation that it can cause, I am in no doubt that shopping can be an addiction and its consequences and effects agonising.
“But despite many studies and research projects, and a great deal of theorising, it seems that there is still no clear definition of what constitutes “addiction”. The most concise statement that most agree on is that “addiction is a behaviour, or pattern of behaviours, that an individual cannot stop repeating, despite damaging or life-changing consequences”.
Pamela Roberts goes on to say “If the definition of addiction is hard to agree on, then an explanation of the causes is even more difficult to establish. Are some people more prone to addictive behaviours than others? Is there such a thing as an addictive personality? Is there an “addiction gene” or group of genes?
“Some addictions tend to be seen, by professionals and the public alike, as “real addictions” and some not. If we apply the “damaging and un-changeable behaviours” test, we can see that anything can be addictive, and yet shopping addiction is not yet formally acknowledged by the World Health Organisation (WHO) or recognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version 5 (DSM5).
“When an individual uses alcohol or other substances to excess, and to the point where there are negative consequences to family, friends, or themselves, we have little difficulty seeing this as an addiction. When the behaviours are less visibly damaging, we might be less inclined to accept them as such.
“Shopping addiction is easy to dismiss as someone being “bad with money”, irresponsible or just ill-disciplined. Society promotes the positive effects of shopping as beneficial - “give yourself a treat”, “what you need is some retail therapy”. We are exposed to highly sophisticated marketing techniques. It is easy to see how this, together with the very real, if short lived, psychological benefit and ‘easing’ from stress or emotional pain that making a purchase can bring, is for some akin to the short-term benefits of substances.
“I was fortunate to gain much of my training and experience at the Priory Hospital Woking, with whom I maintain a working relationship. As the “household name” of addiction treatment, The Priory has huge experience of addictions and, whilst working on their Addiction Treatment Programme (ATP), I met clients who struggled with shopping as either a primary or secondary addiction.
“It might be assumed that shopping addition would cause more harm and emotional distress for those without large financial resources. In reality though, like with all addictions, it does not discriminate. Greater financial resources do not lessen the psychological effects of the addiction and, even more importantly, the underlying trauma or emotional history behind it.
The beginning of shopping addiction recovery can usually only happen when the sufferer has made an absolute decision to change the pattern of their life. Progress can never be made whilst still in a state of denial.
“With alcohol, drugs or many other addictions, the core of recovery will be abstinence. Some addictions however don’t allow this. Food addictions (eating disorders) cannot be tackled with abstinence obviously. Shopping is similar. A period during which a friend or relative carries out the shopping may be necessary at an early stage, but real progress is made by learning what is healthy and unhealthy behaviour. As with all addictions, it is essential to learn to regulate emotions without resorting to addictive behaviours – and to stop depending on something external to oneself.
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About Priory and MEDIAN
Priory is the UK’s leading independent provider of mental health services. We treat more than 70 conditions including depression, anxiety, addictions, and eating disorders, as well as children’s mental health, across our nationwide network of sites. We also support adults with complex autism, learning disabilities, as well as older people, as a leading provider of specialist residential care and supported living – helping as many people as possible to live their lives.
Priory is part of MEDIAN, one of Europe’s leading providers of high-quality mental health and medical rehabilitative services. Overall there are 427 facilities in the MEDIAN Group, comprising 306 Priory facilities with 5,352 beds in the United Kingdom, and 121 facilities and 19,200 beds in Germany, caring for around 260,000 people, with 35,000 employees.
MEDIAN manages patients who have experienced symptoms of COVID-19 and/or Long COVID and shares information for medical professionals at www.long-covid.de