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Online Shopping

Among the approximately 6% of Americans who struggle with compulsive buying-shopping (oniomania) a sub-set is affected by online shopping. Between 2020-2022, pandemic-related stresses may have worsened already existing shopper addiction or induced new cases of shopper addiction. Co-occurring conditions may have exacerbated or accelerated the addictive process, e.g., ADHD. Three factors may have increased vulnerability to online shopping addiction (Hartney & Snyder, 2020). Three vulnerable groups are 1)  persons who like to buy anonymously and avoid social interaction (easier online), 2) persons who enjoy a wide variety of items and the constant availability of items (easier online), and 3) people who like instant gratification (easier online).

Salience – As shopping exerts a soothing effect and takes over the mind the act of shopping/buying may become the most important thing in life. Thoughts of shopping are frequent or almost constant causing a move from thinking to planning and execution. Salience may have been expedited by home isolation during the pandemic when people spent more time online, found online shopping quick and convenient at the outset, were exposed to online ads for items bought, and found online shopping a way to deal with the some of the stresses of the pandemic.

Mood Modification – After shopping online awhile, the shopper learned that online shopping made him/her feel better, somewhat euphoric. It was possible to reduce negative feelings such as guilt, anxiety, helplessness, loneliness, and/or depression associated with life events such as pandemic, bills, job, and suchlike. The mood change made the shopper forget personal issues and feel good temporarily. Unfortunately, the dopamine effect wore off (and the shopper may enticed to repeat the cycle).

Tolerance – As the habit becomes more ingrained in shopper behavior, there is an increased inclination to shop or buy things with the result that more goods than intended may be bought. This means that increased amounts of time were spent on shopping or buying, and more money was spent than intended. Like other addictions (behavorial or substance), over time, more time and effort were devoted to shopping to attain the same soothing effect as the shopper once attained with lesser time and effort, i.e., tolerance had developed.  

Withdrawal Symptoms – While the shopper may know to reduce shopping or buying it may be impossible to do so, and to try and fail may induce negative moods such as stress, sourness, grumpiness, and strong urges to shop/buy online. The online shopper may then think of a “remedy” (more soothing).

Conflict – Conflict sets in as the online shopping addiction worsens. The time spent online may hinder household, work, self-care, relationships, and/or leisure tasks thereby involving other people in the addiction. Lying, hiding invoices, secret loans, etc. may occur as financial issues develop. Expenditure of money may be excessive for self and/or partner and gradually lead to arguments, poor relationships, interpersonal violence, and even broken relationships. Guilt (over time, money, and neglect of responsibilities), and poor self-care (appearance, dress, nutrition, sleeplessness) may worsen mood. Gradually, the addictive cycle begins to repeat.

Relapse – As with other addictions, oneself and/or others may advise the shopper to reduce or stop the excessive online shopping by limiting one or more of the three essentials required to sustain the online addiction, namely, time, money (credit card, loans, partner accounts), and access (computer internet, smartphone, or other device). Attempts to control excessive behavior may be short-lived or impossible thereby leading to mood disorders. As with other addictions, some learning may occur from “failures”. If sustained, the failed attempts may shift from “learnings” to “relapses”.


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