Addiction to shopping drives people to ruin

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Pathological buying behavior with serious consequences

Shopping addiction or pathological buying behavior is a very common phenomenon among the adult population in Germany. Without therapeutic help, many of the addicts cannot free themselves from their compulsive consumption behavior and there are significant psychological, social and financial problems, reports Dr. med. Dr. phil. Astrid Müller from the Clinic for Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy at the Hannover Medical School (MHH) in a patient information for addicts.

According to experts, between five and eight percent of adults in Germany are extremely at risk of buying addiction. They tend to make irrational purchases, in which the focus is not on owning the goods but on purchasing themselves. Thanks to the convenient shopping facilities on the Internet, those affected can nowadays satisfy their addiction to shopping from home around the clock, which can make it considerably more difficult to control the obsessive-compulsive disorder. In order to help the addicted, the MHH psychologist offers group therapy. In this, the "Recognizing and modifying dysfunctional thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns that trigger and maintain the buying attacks" as well as avoiding the buying attacks and "Establishing an appropriate buying behavior" are to be conveyed.

Shopping addiction often triggered by stressful situations and feelings. Shopping addiction is characterized by a derailed buying behavior, in which goods are purchased in the course of regular buying attacks without reasonable motivation. The shopping frenzy is often triggered by negative feelings and the need to distract from problems. For example, “Welt Online” reports on a patient who, after the death of her husband due to a brain tumor in 1984, first became addicted to shopping. As a 29-year-old widow, the patients had to raise two small children and wanted to show everyone that she and the children are still doing well. So expensive clothes were bought for the daughters and themselves, friends received generous gifts and the patient experienced real feelings of happiness when buying things.

Buyers succumb to the shopping frenzy. The person concerned reported that shopping was an intoxication hardly comprehensible to outsiders, similar to a trip on drugs. Her addiction to buy brought her to court two years after her husband's death, where she had to answer for fraud. Ultimately, she was transferred to forensic psychiatry, where, however, no one could help her and she went back to her irrational buying behavior when she was released. Social suffering, economic ruin and considerable psychological complaints are often the end of such suffering. However, in the course of the buying attacks, addicts completely hide possible negative consequences of their behavior such as debt, relationship problems, subsequent depression and anxiety. They succumb to their inner urge to shop and during the purchase there is a temporary improvement in mood. Similar to drugs, this feeling is short-lived.

Feelings of guilt, regret and shame after shopping After the purchase or at the moment the goods are delivered, “addictive feelings of guilt and regret typically arise”, reports the MHH expert, Astrid Müller. The goods purchased would then be “kept secret, hidden, excused, often never unpacked or hoarded.” According to the MHH psychologist, all people who repeatedly buy things they don't need are at risk of buying addiction. In addition, many of the patients show little self-confidence and suffer more from other mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorders, reports the expert. Otherwise the patients would have little in common. The addiction to shopping can be observed among the poor and rich, among doctoral candidates and those who are far from educated, among traumatized people, but also among people with harmless biographies. Shopping addiction is officially not classified as an addiction but as an obsessive-compulsive disorder, since according to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) only addiction to a substance is recognized as addiction, but not behavioral addiction.

Behavioral therapy as a way out for shopaholics A tried and tested, effective treatment approach for shopaholics is behavioral therapy as it was successfully tested at the University Hospital Erlangen under the direction of Astrid Müller a few years ago and is now also practiced at the MHH in Hanover. Patients should learn to overcome their addictions in twelve 90-minute group sessions. The appropriation of alternative jobs is just as much a part of the therapy as an appropriately adjusted money management or dealing with self-esteem problems. Many of those affected also find support in a self-help group, where they can share their problems with other addicts. (fp)

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