Wednesday, June 29, 2011


A RESOLVE study has shed light on the use of mindfulness to combat shopping addiction.

Shopping addiction (oniomania), also known as  compulsive buying disorder (CBD), has the elements of both a mental ‘obsession’ and a physical ‘compulsion’ ordinarily associated with an addiction. However, some psychiatrists believe compulsive buying is more indicative of impulse control disorder. Others think it is more indicative of some sort of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Still others view the disorder as an impulsive-compulsive spectrum disorder, while there are some who see it as a mood disorder.

CBD is said to affect an estimated 5.9 (US), 6 (AUS) or 8-16 (UK) per cent of the adult population. There is now a twelve-step program to treat the condition, the program being called, appropriately, Shopaholics Anonymous.

My wife would say that I am a bit of a shopaholic myself when it comes to my regular frequenting of opportunity (thrift) shops and the like in search of that proverbial ‘white elephant’. Unfortunately, our house is now full of white elephants of various kinds and of all shapes and sizes ... in the form of secondhand books (lots of them!), CDs, DVDs, showbiz memorabilia, kitschy ornaments, icons, etc ... nearly all of which have been bought by, yes, yours truly.

CBD is a real problem, and it is often the result of other problems including depression, anxiety and unhappiness in relationships (not to mention boredom and negative emotional states such as anger and self-loathing). People suffering from CBD often have mental problems in addition to depression and anxiety, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, alcoholism or other impulsive behaviours such as a gambling addiction or kleptomania.

‘Retail therapy’, as it is sometimes called, is essentially a form of ‘self-medication’ where the person in question seeks to elevate their mood by rewarding or otherwise compensating themselves for actual or perceived losses or negative emotional states. In time, shopping becomes the person’s main way of coping with stress to the point where they continue to shop excessively even when it is clearly having an adverse impact on other areas of their life (eg finances, familial and other personal relationships, and even physical and mental health).

As with other addictions, finances and relationships are damaged, yet the shopping addict feels unable to stop or even control their spending by the use of will power. (Will power may be able to break a bad habit but never an addiction, the latter being a bad habit with the added elements of mental obsession and physical compulsion, for the will is captive to the addiction. Simple as that. Only 'want power' can open the door to freedom.)

Yes, just like any form of addiction, things can very quickly spiral out of control. From a position of wanting to be in control, the person suddenly finds that they are completely out of control ... indeed, powerless (to use the language of twelve-step programs).

Retail therapy results in guilt and even more negative emotions, and the addictive behaviour can become secretive (‘closet buying’ or ‘closet shopping’) - just like alcohol and drug addiction - with the development over time of that pathological phenomenon known as ‘denial’.

The RESOLVE study sought to test the efficacy of mindfulness as a means of both curbing excessive shopping and attenuating negative emotional states that might otherwise be causing and/or ‘feeding’ the addiction.

It is well-documented that the regular practice of mindfulness can be effective in reducing depression and anxiety and increasing feelings of wellbeing.

Six self-confessed shopping addicts volunteered to learn mindfulness over an 8 week period.

All participants experienced lessening of the depression and anxiety that had driven them to shop, and reported feeling happier and more accepting of themselves.

The participants also reported feeling stronger, more able to understand the triggers for shopping urges, and more able to choose moment by moment whether they would indulge those urges.

Three months after the end of the mindfulness course, depression and shopping levels among those who attended the training had relapsed slightly, but not to the levels at the beginning.

(This blog sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.)




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