Confessions of a Shopaholic- Studying addiction


So exams are finally over, and that’s great, but i’m now left with a gaping hole in my life i’m trying desperately to fill.

Recently I made almost 100 origami dragons and elephants and started baking and cycling a lot, all to no success. Then I remembered online shopping. Topshop, eBay, ASOS, Amazon, where all the things I could ever want to buy are just a click away.


Let me start by saying, I don’t like shopping. At all. I think it’s tiring and stressful. But online shopping is amazing, I can see everything in one place without having to wade through swarms of giggling 12 year old girls (Oxford Street Topshop i’m talking about you). It’s reached the extent where my own mum called me a shopaholic. Whilst initially I thought she must be going mad, after accumulating a Topshop wishlist costing well over £600 I realized she may have had a point.

From a psychology perspective I was curious as to what criteria I would have to fulfil to genuinely be a ‘Shopaholic’.

Psychology Today defined addiction as ‘a condition that results when a person ingests a substance or engages in an activity that can be pleasurable but the continued use of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work or relationships, or health.’

Online shopping is definitely pleasurable, and it helps me to relax, but i’ve never turned down going out with friends or put my health at risk to online shop, so I think i’m safe!

From my research I compiled a basic list of symptoms of an addict:

  • The individual takes the substance or engages in the activity and cannot stop- it takes up all their time and they’d put it above anything else.
  • There is a craving or compulsion to take the substance or engage in the activity.
  • Use or involvement escalates indicating tolerance.
  • Attempts to stop produce withdrawal symptoms such as bouts of moodiness, bad temper, poor focus, a feeling of being depressed and empty, frustration, nausea, anger, bitterness and resentment.
  • Addiction continues despite health problem awareness. For example, a smoker may continue smoking even after a lung or heart condition develops.
  • Social and/or recreational sacrifices are made. For example, a smoker may decide not to meet up with friends in a smoke-free pub or restaurant.
  • Going out of their way and potentially putting themselves at risk to obtain their ‘fix’.

I’m sure there are many more and it depends on the circumstances of the individual, but these seem to be the most common.

The cause of addiction definitely depends on the type of addiction and the individual. Everyone has different, personal reasons and experiences which make them prone to addiction. However at a conference I attended at Nottingham University, a professor who researches gambling addiction split causes or ‘hooks’ for gambling behaviour into three subunits:

1. Individual Characteristics – These include biology like genetics, and personality factors. One study looked at 861 identical twin pairs and 653 non-identical twin pairs. When one identical twin was addicted to alcohol, the other twin had a high probability of being addicted. But when one non-identical twin was addicted to alcohol, the other twin did not necessarily have an addiction. The study showed 50-60% of addiction is due to genetic factors. Research has also shown that the children of addicts are 8 times more likely to themselves develop an addiction.

2. Structural Characteristics- These are things involved in your activity which ‘hook you in.’ Who hasn’t bought something they might not normally because it was on sale? Other structural factors can be things like sound and lighting effects in gambling and high reward frequency to reinforce addiction. There are hundreds of factors involved in addictive activities which draw people in.

3. Situational Characteristics- These are things like advertising, placement of the activity, colour, music, all things which may encourage an individual to start the activity. For example if a casino with bright posters and loud music was opened next door to a college, the exposure to this marketing may lead some students to start casually gambling. Depending on their biology and structural characteristics in place, this could develop into an addiction.

I think after my research I can safely say I am NOT addicted to shopping. I’m just a girl who likes to shop, no harm done… except maybe slightly to my bank balance!


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