PhotoWith the Internet, it has never been easier to shop. Consumers who can't seem to control themselves in that area are said to be addicted to shopping.

But despite jokes about being a “shopaholic,” Cecilie Schou Andreassen, of the University of Bergen, says shopping addiction is a real dependence, and like any dependence it's not particularly humorous.

Andreassen approached shopping just as a scientist would any other addiction, adopting core elements that are universal as diagnostic criteria for other dependencies.

"Modern technology has made shopping extremely accessible and convenient, with the potential of sending problematic shopping into overdrive - especially along with sociocultural factors such as social media, credit cards, and advanced marketing," she said.

Yes, it's easy to shop and buy things, but not everyone does it to the extreme. So what makes a shopping addict?

Clear tendencies

Andreassen's study shows some clear tendencies among groups of consumers to fall into a shopping dependency. She said addictive shopping is more likely in certain demographic groups – more predominant in women, and typically initiated in late adolescence and emerging adulthood.

She also finds it closely associated with certain personality traits.

"Our research indicates that people who score high on extroversion and neuroticism are more at risk of developing shopping addiction,” Andreassen said. “Extroverts, typically being social and sensation seeking, may be using shopping to express their individuality or enhance their social status and personal attractiveness.”

At the same time, if you're a bit neurotic, anxious, depressive, or self-conscious, you might be inclined to use shopping as a means of reducing these negative feelings.

At the other end of the equation, consumers who are conscientious, agreeable, and who like new and intellectual stimuli are less at risk from shopping addiction. Andreassen says these people typically have good self-control, avoid the kind of conflicts that problematic shopping often result in, and may regard shopping as a conventional activity at odds with their often unconventional values.

Anxious people most at risk

"We have also found that shopping addiction is related to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem,” Andreassen said.

In other words, it shares many of the same symptoms of other addictions. But instead of being dependent upon a substance like alcohol or cocaine, the consumer is dependent on an activity. In the end, all addictions produce a feeling that the victim finds hard to resist.

According to Andreassen, there are seven questions she asks patients to determine their level of shopping dependence. Subjects are asked to respond to the questions with (0) Completely disagree, (1) Disagree, (2) Neither disagree nor agree, (3) Agree, and (4) Completely agree:

  1. You think about shopping/buying things all the time.
  2. You shop/buy things in order to change your mood.
  3. You shop/buy so much that it negatively affects your daily obligations (e.g., school and work).
  4. You feel you have to shop/buy more and more to obtain the same satisfaction as before.
  5. You have decided to shop/buy less, but have not been able to do so.
  6. You feel bad if you for some reason are prevented from shopping/buying things.
  7. You shop/buy so much that it has impaired your well-being.

Andreassen says scoring of "agree" or "completely agree" on at least four of the seven items may suggest that you are a shopping addict.

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