Being a shopaholic 'should be considered a mental illness'

young woman female shopper standing with colorful paper bags in hands in shopping mall or department store, focus on hands
Psychiatrists want to see "shopping addiction" listed as a mental health condition. [Photo: Getty]

Many get excited to hit the shops come pay day or feel a rush of adrenaline when they see the word “sale”.

While it may seem harmless, psychiatrists are calling for “shopping addiction” to be classed as a mental illness.

The World Health Organization (WHO) lists an obsessive need to shop as an “other specified impulse control disorder”.

But the psychiatrists, from Hannover Medical School in Germany, believe it is “time to recognise it as a mental health condition” in its own right.

They even claim 5% of the population could be suffering from so-called buying-shopping disorder (BSD).

READ MORE: 7 Signs You’re a Shopaholic

BSD is defined as an “extreme preoccupation with and craving for buying, and irresistible and identify-seeking urges to possess consumer goods”.

“Shopaholics” tend to buy more than they can afford, much of which they neither need nor use.

This is often to mask a negative emotion or to get a temporary rush of pleasure, the psychiatrists claim.

In the long term, it can lead to “extreme distress”, debt, hoarding and even the breakdown of families.

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The recently released eleventh edition of the International Classification of Diseases lists BSD in the category of “other specified impulse control disorders”.

This is unlike gaming or gambling, which are classed as “disorders due to addictive behaviour”.

“It really is time to recognise BSD as separate mental health condition”, Dr Astrid Müller, from Hannover Medical School, said.

The comments come after the psychiatrists looked at 122 seeking help for BSD.

Results, published in the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry, found a third (33.6%) of the patients were specifically “addicted” to online shopping.

The internet is thought to give BSD sufferers newfound “availability, anonymity and accessibility” when it comes to their spending.

“We hope our results showing 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,” Dr Müller said.

What are the symptoms of BSD?

BSD is a relatively new concept. A study by the OCD Clinic in California found around 5.8% of Americans suffer from an uncontrolled urge to buy goods.

Studies have shown between 80% and 95% of BSD “patients” are women, according to a review by the psychiatrist Dr Donald Black from the University of Iowa.

Sufferers are often “preoccupied” with shopping and devote “significant time” to the habit.

Many report a sense of urgency or anxiety, which can only be relieved by making a sale.

Some even plan what to wear and which credit card to use on their shopping outing.

They may also put “considerable research” into where sales are taking placing or the opening of a new shop.

READ MORE: 10 shop-till-you-drop destinations

When it comes to buying something, many report “intense excitement” or even a “sexual feeling”, according to Dr Iowa.

But once it is over, they feel “let down” or disappointed in themselves, according to the OCD Clinic scientists.

BSD sufferers tend to go shopping alone and feel embarrassed letting others know of their impulsive habit, Dr Black wrote.

However, some may indulge with others who share their love of shopping. Income rarely comes into it, with even broke people being susceptible to BSD.

Spending may become particularly problematic around Christmas or before a loved one’s birthday.

Treatment typically involves cognitive behavioural therapy (CBD) and self-help books, according to Dr Iowa.

Financial counselling may help those with substantial debt.

When it comes to medication, studies have thrown up mixed results.

Some suggest antidepressants could “curb” BSD, while others found the drugs to be no better than placebo.

Dr Black recommends sufferers first admit they have a spending problem.

They should then throw away their credit cards and only go shopping with someone else, who can “curb the tendency to overspend”.

He also advises shopaholics find “meaningful ways to spend their leisure time other than shopping”.

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