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Running up debt: A brief overview of our recent papers on exercise and shopping addictions

Following my recent blogs where I outlined some of the papers that my colleagues and I have published on mindfulness, Internet addiction, gaming addiction, youth gambling and other addictive behaviours, here is a round-up of recent papers that my colleagues and I have published on exercise addiction and shopping addictions (i.e., compulsive buying).

Griffiths, M.D., Urbán, R., Demetrovics, Z., Lichtenstein, M.B., de la Vega, R., Kun, B., Ruiz-Barquín, R., Youngman, J. & Szabo, A. (2015). A cross-cultural re-evaluation of the Exercise Addiction Inventory (EAI) in five countries. Sports Medicine Open, 1:5.

  • Research into the detrimental effects of excessive exercise has been conceptualized in a number of similar ways, including ‘exercise addiction’, ‘exercise dependence’, ‘obligatory exercising’, ‘exercise abuse’, and ‘compulsive exercise’. Among the most currently used (and psychometrically valid and reliable) instruments is the Exercise Addiction Inventory (EAI). The present study aimed to further explore the psychometric properties of the EAI by combining the datasets of a number of surveys carried out in five different countries (Denmark, Hungary, Spain, UK, and US) that have used the EAI with a total sample size of 6,031 participants. A series of multigroup confirmatory factor analyses (CFAs) were carried out examining configural invariance, metric invariance, and scalar invariance. The CFAs using the combined dataset supported the configural invariance and metric invariance but not scalar invariance. Therefore, EAI factor scores from five countries are not comparable because the use or interpretation of the scale was different in the five nations. However, the covariates of exercise addiction can be studied from a cross-cultural perspective because of the metric invariance of the scale. Gender differences among exercisers in the interpretation of the scale also emerged. The implications of the results are discussed, and it is concluded that the study’s findings will facilitate a more robust and reliable use of the EAI in future research.

Mónok, K., Berczik, K., Urbán, R., Szabó, A., Griffiths, M.D., Farkas, J., Magi, A., Eisinger, A., Kurimay, T., Kökönyei, G., Kun, B., Paksi, B. & Demetrovics, Z. (2012). Psychometric properties and concurrent validity of two exercise addiction measures: A population wide study in Hungary. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13, 739-746.

  • Objectives: The existence of exercise addiction has been examined in numerous studies. However, none of the measures developed for exercise addiction assessment have been validated on representative samples. Furthermore, estimates of exercise addiction prevalence in the general population are not available. The objective of the present study was to validate the Exercise Addiction Inventory (EAI; Terry, Szabo, & Griffiths, 2004), and the Exercise Dependence Scale (EDS; Hausenblas & Downs, 2002b), and to estimate the prevalence of exercise addiction in general population. Design: Exercise addiction was assessed within the framework of the National Survey on Addiction Problems in Hungary (NSAPH), a national representative study for the population aged 18–64 years (N = 2710). Method: 474 people in the sample (57% males; mean age 33.2 years) who reported to exercise at least once a week were asked to complete the two questionnaires (EAI, EDS). Results: Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) indicated good fit both in the case of EAI (CFI = 0.971; TLI = 0.952; RMSEA = 0.052) and EDS (CFI = 0.938; TLI = 0.922; RMSEA = 0.049); and confirmed the factor structure of the two scales. The correlation between the two measures was high (r = 0.79). Results showed that 6.2% (EDS) and 10.1% (EAI) of the population were characterized as nondependent-symptomatic exercisers, while the proportion of the at-risk exercisers were 0.3% and 0.5%, respectively. Conclusions: Both EAI and EDS proved to be a reliable assessment tool for exercise addiction, a phenomenon that is present in the 0.3–0.5% of the adult general population.

Szabo, A., Griffiths, M.D., de La Vega Marcos, R., Mervo, B. & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Methodological and conceptual limitations in exercise addiction research. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 86, 303-308.

  • The aim of this brief analytical review is to highlight and disentangle research dilemmas in the field of exercise addiction. Research examining exercise addiction is primarily based on self-reports, obtained by questionnaires (incorporating psychometrically validated instruments), and interviews, which provide a range of risk scores rather than diagnosis. Survey methodology indicates that the prevalence of risk for exercise addiction is approximately 3 percent among the exercising population. Several studies have reported a substantially greater prevalence of risk for exercise addiction in elite athletes compared to those who exercise for leisure. However, elite athletes may assign a different interpretation to the assessment tools than leisure exercisers. The present paper examines the: 1) discrepancies in the classification of exercise addiction; 2) inconsistent reporting of exercise addiction prevalence; and 3) varied interpretation of exercise addiction diagnostic tools. It is concluded that there is the need for consistent terminology, to follow-up results derived from exercise addiction instruments with interviews, and to follow a theory-driven rationale in this area of research.

Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D., Pallesen, S., Bilder, R.M., Torsheim, T. Aboujaoude, E.N. (2015). The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale: Reliability and validity of a brief screening test. Frontiers in Psychology, 6:1374. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01374.

  • Although excessive and compulsive shopping has been increasingly placed within the behavioral addiction paradigm in recent years, items in existing screens arguably do not assess the core criteria and components of addiction. To date, assessment screens for shopping disorders have primarily been rooted within the impulse-control or obsessive-compulsive disorder paradigms. Furthermore, existing screens use the terms ‘shopping,’ ‘buying,’ and ‘spending’ interchangeably, and do not necessarily reflect contemporary shopping habits. Consequently, a new screening tool for assessing shopping addiction was developed. Initially, 28 items, four for each of seven addiction criteria (salience, mood modification, conflict, tolerance, withdrawal, relapse, and problems), were constructed. These items and validated scales (i.e., Compulsive Buying Measurement Scale, Mini-International Personality Item Pool, Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale) were then administered to 23,537 participants (Mage = 35.8 years, SDage = 13.3). The highest loading item from each set of four pooled items reflecting the seven addiction criteria were retained in the final scale, The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale (BSAS). The factor structure of the BSAS was good (RMSEA=0.064, CFI=0.983, TLI=0.973) and coefficient alpha was 0.87. The scores on the BSAS converged with scores on the Compulsive Buying Measurement Scale (CBMS; 0.80), and were positively correlated with extroversion and neuroticism, and negatively with conscientiousness, agreeableness, and intellect/imagination. The scores of the BSAS were positively associated with anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem and inversely related to age. Females scored higher than males on the BSAS. The BSAS is the first scale to fully embed shopping addiction within an addiction paradigm. A recommended cutoff score for the new scale and future research directions are discussed.

Davenport, K., Houston, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Excessive eating and compulsive buying behaviours in women: An empirical pilot study examining reward sensitivity, anxiety, impulsivity, self-esteem and social desirability. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 474-489.

  • ‘Mall disorders’ such as excessive eating and compulsive buying appear to be increasing, particularly among women. A battery of questionnaires was used in an attempt to determine this association between specific personality traits (i.e., reward sensitivity, impulsivity, cognitive and somatic anxiety, self-esteem, and social desirability) and excessive eating and compulsive buying in 134 women. Reward sensitivity and cognitive anxiety were positively related to excessive eating and compulsive buying, as was impulsivity to compulsive buying. Somatic anxiety and social desirability were negatively related to compulsive buying. These preliminary findings indicate that excessive behaviours are not necessarily interrelated. The behaviours examined in this study appear to act as an outlet for anxiety via the behaviours’ reinforcing properties (e.g., pleasure, attention, praise, etc.). As a consequence, this may boost self-esteem. The findings also appear to indicate a number of risk factors that could be used as ‘warning signs’ that the behaviour may develop into an addiction.

Maraz, A., Eisinger, A., Hende, Urbán, R., Paksi, B., Kun, B., Kökönyei, G., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Measuring compulsive buying behaviour: Psychometric validity of three different scales and prevalence in the general population and in shopping centres. Psychiatry Research, 225, 326–334.

  • Due to the problems of measurement and the lack of nationally representative data, the extent of compulsive buying behaviour (CBB) is relatively unknown. The validity of three different instruments was tested: Edwards Compulsive Buying Scale, Questionnaire About Buying Behavior and Richmond Compulsive Buying Scale using two independent samples. One was nationally representative of the Hungarian population (N=2710) while the other comprised shopping mall customers (N=1447). As a result, a new, four-factor solution for the ECBS was developed (Edwards Compulsive Buying Scale Revised (ECBS-R)), and confirmed the other two measures. Additionally, cut-off scores were defined for all measures. Results showed that the prevalence of CBB is 1.85% (with QABB) in the general population but significantly higher in shopping mall customers (8.7% with ECBS-R, 13.3% with QABB and 2.5% with RCBS-R). Conclusively, due to the diversity of content, each measure identifies a somewhat different CBB group.

Maraz, A., Griffiths, M.D., & Demetrovics, Z. (2016). The prevalence of compulsive buying in non-clinical populations: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Addiction, 111, 408-419.

  • Aims: To estimate the pooled prevalence of compulsive buying behaviour (CBB) in different populations and to determine the effect of age, gender, location and screening instrument on the reported heterogeneity in estimates of CBB and whether publication bias could be identified. Methods: Three databases were searched (Medline, PsychInfo, Web of Science) using the terms ‘compulsive buying’, ‘pathological buying’ and ‘compulsive shopping’ to estimate the pooled prevalence of CBB in different populations. Forty studies reporting 49 prevalence estimates from 16 countries were located (n = 32 000). To conduct the meta-analysis, data from non-clinical studies regarding mean age and gender proportion, geographical study location and screening instrument used to assess CBB were extracted by multiple independent observers and evaluated using a random-effects model. Four a priori subgroups were analysed using pooled estimation (Cohen’s Q) and covariate testing (moderator and meta-regression analysis). Results: The CBB pooled prevalence of adult representative studies was 4.9% (3.4–6.9%, eight estimates, 10 102 participants), although estimates were higher among university students: 8.3% (5.9–11.5%, 19 estimates, 14 947 participants) in adult non-representative samples: 12.3% (7.6–19.1%, 11 estimates, 3929 participants) and in shopping-specific samples: 16.2% (8.8–27.8%, 11 estimates, 4686 participants). Being young and female were associated with increased tendency, but not location (United States versus non-United States). Meta-regression revealed large heterogeneity within subgroups, due mainly to diverse measures and time-frames (current versus life-time) used to assess CBB. Conclusions: A pooled estimate of compulsive buying behaviour in the populations studied is approximately 5%, but there is large variation between samples accounted for largely by use of different time-frames and measures.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Allegre, B., Souville, M., Therme, P. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Definitions and measures of exercise dependence, Addiction Research and Theory, 14, 631-646.

Allegre, B., Therme, P. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Individual factors and the context of physical activity in exercise dependence: A prospective study of ‘ultra-marathoners’. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 5, 233-243.

Berczik, K., Szabó, A., Griffiths, M.D., Kurimay, T., Kun, B. & Demetrovics, Z. (2012). Exercise addiction: symptoms, diagnosis, epidemiology, and etiology. Substance Use and Misuse, 47, 403-417.

Berczik, K., Griffiths, M.D., Szabó, A., Kurimay, T., Kökönyei, G., Urbán, R. and Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Exercise addiction – the emergence of a new disorder. Australasian Epidemiologist, 21(2), 36-40.

Berczik, K., Griffiths, M.D., Szabó, A., Kurimay, T., Urban, R. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Exercise addiction. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.317-342). New York: Elsevier.

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). Exercise addiction: A case study. Addiction Research, 5, 161-168.

Griffiths, M.D., Szabo, A. & Terry, A. (2005). The Exercise Addiction Inventory: A quick and easy screening tool for health practitioners. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39, 30-31.

Kurimay, T., Griffiths, M.D., Berczik, K., & Demetrovics, Z. (2013). Exercise addiction: The dark side of sports and exercise. In Baron, D., Reardon, C. & Baron, S.H., Contemporary Issues in Sports Psychiatry: A Global Perspective (pp.33-43). Chichester: Wiley.

Szabo, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Exercise addiction in British sport science students. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 5, 25-28.

Terry, A., Szabo, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). The Exercise Addiction Inventory: A new brief screening tool, Addiction Research and Theory, 12, 489-499.

Warner, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). A qualitative thematic analysis of exercise addiction: An exploratory study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 13-26.

Men of steal: A brief look at the psychology of shoplifting

In previous blogs I have examined activities like shopping as an addiction. One similar such behaviour is shoplifting. I have to admit that from a personal perspective I came from a family where at least two of my siblings were regular shoplifters and were both regularly caught by shop staff members and reported to the police. As a teenager, my brother was a habitual shoplifter. His behaviour was economically motivated at the start (i.e., we came from a very poor and impoverished family and he stole things because he couldn’t afford to buy things that his friends had) but was later carried out to help feed his addiction to slot machines (i.e., he would steal shop items, sell them, and use the money to gamble). This latter behaviour is common among adolescent gamblers and I have written about this in both of my published books on adolescent slot machine addiction as well as in a number of my published papers.

Last week, one of my regular blog readers, forensic psychologist Dr. John C. Brady, sent me a copy of his latest book Why Rich Women Shoplift – When They Have It All. It’s an engrossing and fascinating read (I sat an read it all in one sitting) and there are many references throughout to seeing some forms of shoplifting as an addiction. I will return to this topic in a future blog (along with a look at the related behaviour of kleptomania) but I thought I would use today’s blog to talk about something very specific in Dr. Brady’s book.

One of the many interesting things I read was Brady’s classification of 16 different types of shoplifters with seven underlying psychological dimensions. The classification included those that are (i) impulse driven (The Externalizer; The Compulsive; The Atypical Shoplifter), (ii) psychologically motivated (The Kleptomaniac; The Thrill Seeker; The Trophy Shoplifter; The Binge-Spree Shoplifter; The Equalizer; The Situational Shoplifter), (iii) economically influenced (The Professional; The Impoverished [Economically Disadvantaged] Shoplifter), (iv) age determined (The Provisional/Delinquent Shoplifter), (v) alcohol and substance connected (The Drug or Alcohol Addict), (vi) mentally/medically impaired (The Alzheimer’s Sufferer/Amnesiac; The Chemically/Alcohol Driven Shoplifter), and (vii) no identifiable psychosocial drivers (The Inadvertent/Amateur Shoplifter). Brady acknowledges that the typology is purely descriptive, not exhaustive and was not developed to be mutually exclusive. Here is a brief description of the 16 types:

  • The Externalizer: These are people who feel that they are not in control of their lives (“controlled by outside forces that serve as negative psychological drivers, lowering their moral threshold”) and have an external locus of control. Brady argues that shoplifting simply channels to express anger or help legitimize their personal aggression. All of Brady’s rich women that shoplift fit this particular profile.
  • The Compulsive: From the descriptor, it is self-evident that this type of shoplifts as a compulsive behaviour and may also engage in other types of addictive behaviour such as gambling addiction and shopping/buying addiction. According to Brady they are generous individuals but do not care about themselves. When they are caught shoplifting they are full of remorse (and only feel good during or just after the shoplifting incident) but simply cannot resist the urge to shoplift.
  • The Atypical Shoplifter: This type of shoplifter is based on the work of Dr. Will Cupchik and described in his 2011 book Why Honest People Shoplift or Commit Other Acts of Theft: Assessment and Treatment of ‘Atypical Theft Offenders. Brady describes such people as not shoplifting for any kind of personal economic gains. Such people claim they had no idea why they engaged in shoplifting except to say that it wasn’t economically motivated.
  • The Kleptomaniac: Like atypical shoplifters, kleptomaniacs also steal and shoplift for no apparent reason (and do so impulsively). Many people may have the impression that most shoplifters are kleptomaniacs but as Brady is keen to point out, only 5% of shoplifters are kleptomaniacs. Brady claims this category is the most controversial although the classification in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (correctly) classes kleptomania as an impulse-control disorder and the behaviour is not carried out as an expression of anger or vengeance. (Dr. Brady spends a whole chapter in his book explaining why the DSM classification of kleptomania is poor).
  • The Thrill Seeker: Brady describes this group of people (typically adolescents) as a “higher risk shoplifter” who shoplift for the intrinsic excitement of carrying out an illegal behaviour. They may also shoplift as part of a dare simultaneously with other shoplifters. Brady claims that shoplifting for thrill seekers gives them a sense of autonomy (and that the goal is “psychological overcompensation” for individuals that may have a history of failure in the lives).
  • The Trophy Shoplifter: Brady claims there have been an increasing number of cases of trophy shoplifters reported in the media. Citing Terence Shulman (who also wrote the Foreword for Brady’s book), Brady quotes from Cluttered Lives, Empty Souls – Compulsive Stealing, Spending and Hoarding (Shulman’s 2011 book) and says trophy shoppers “tend to need to have the best of everything: they seek out that perfect object, be it fashion, art, car, etc. – the more special, unique, or rare, the better”. To me, this behaviour appears to be a by-product of being an ardent collector, and Brady does go on to say there is a “direct connection” between a collector and a trophy shoplifter.
  • The Binge-Spree Shoplifter: According to Brady, binge-spree shoplifters are typically adolescents (but may carry on as an adult) where the person shoplifts in a short bout of thefts arising from a combination of weak impulses and doing it to impress their peers (i.e., or as Brady terms it “subcultural recognition”). Like binge drinking and binge gambling, the behaviour occurs in short specific bouts followed by appreciable periods of abstinence.
  • The Equalizer: This category of shoplifter arose from some of Brady’s own case studies. Some of the shoplifters he interviewed felt that over the course of their lives, many things (both real and perceived) had been taken from them and that shoplifting was “retaliatory justification” for such past events. Brady also described such individuals as going through their lives with “a good-size chip on their shoulders” and who are agitated, edgy and resistant to treatment.
  • The Situational Shoplifter: Brady describes the situational shoplifter as an opportunist that steals on the spur of the moment after seeing an item that has some kind of appeal to them. The process itself was described by Brady as “almost unconscious”. In many ways, the motivation is similar to the compulsive shoplifter but the activity is much more likely to be done on a very occasional basis.
  • The Professional: Professional shoplifters are very simply those that steal (often expensive “high-end”) items for profit. A number of television shows in the UK have profiled such people and as Brady points out, this type of shoplifter shows no remorse if caught and will often try to resist arrest.
  • The Impoverished [Economically Disadvantaged] Shoplifter: Like the professional shoplifter, the motivation to steal is economically motivated but is done out of necessity rather than for profit and/or greed. Items stolen may be basic necessities (food, toiletries, nappies, etc.) and when caught such people may show remorse (however, according to Brady they are hostile towards the “system” that has led to them being economically disadvantaged).
  • The Provisional/Delinquent Shoplifter: This type of shoplifter is usually an adolescent delinquent that shoplifts as part of a wider group of antisocial behaviours in their “troubled teens”. There appears to be some crossover with thrill seeking shoplifters and binge-spree shoplifters as there are elements of both hedonism and peer pressure associated with the criminal act. The good news is that many teens appear to mature out of such behaviour.
  • The Drug or Alcohol Addict: This type of shoplifter engages in shoplifting behaviour to support their addictive habit (and as such – and as Brady acknowledges – could technically be in the ‘economically influenced’ category of shoplifters. Brady claims they often take high risks and will try to steal as many items as quickly as possible and then run out of the shop. According to Brady, pre-planning is almost non-existent.
  • The Alzheimer’s Sufferer/Amnesiac: This group of shoplifters includes those with severe memory problems and who simply walk out of shops without paying simply because they forgot and/or didn’t realize they hadn’t paid. Brady claims that this group of shoplifters is arguably the fastest growing group as we live in a society where the average age of dying is increasing all the time.
  • The Chemically/Alcohol Driven Shoplifter: Brady claims that this group of shoplifters is distinct from drug and alcohol addicts because the shoplifting is not economically motivated and occurs because they are in an altered state of awareness (due to the psychoactive effects of the substances ingested). As Brady notes, their “mental state typically involves such symptoms as confusion, psychomotor agitation, memory lapse, disorientation, nervousness, and perceptual disturbance” (especially those high on cocaine or meth). From a public safety perspective, the police claim that it is these individuals that pose the biggest threat.
  • The Inadvertent/Amateur Shoplifter: This final category refers to those without any kind of psychological or physiological disorder who simply “forget to pay” for an item. People may not even realize for some considerable time after that they didn’t pay for the item(s) and it is then up to the person’s conscience as to whether they return the “stolen” items.

I think this typology is intuitive and covers almost all the types of shoplifter that I can think of. I say ‘almost’ as my own brother’s late teenage shoplifting behaviour would not be included in any of the 16 types listed here. However, the ‘drug/alcohol addict’ category could be widened to ‘chemical or behavioural addict’ and then he would be able to be included.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Brady, J.C. (2013). Why Rich Women Shoplift – When They Have It All. San Jose, CA: Western Psych Press.

Cupchick, W. (1997). Why Honest People Shoplift or Commit Other Acts of Theft: Assessment and Treatment of ‘Atypical Theft Offenders. Toronto: Tagami Communication.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Adolescent Gambling. London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Gambling and Gaming Addictions in Adolescence. Leicester: British Psychological Society/Blackwells.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Adolescent gambling. In B. Bradford Brown & Mitch Prinstein(Eds.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence (Volume 3) (pp.11-20). San Diego: Academic Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (in press). Gambling and crime. In W.G. Jennings (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment. London: Sage.

Griffiths, M.D. & Sparrow, P. (1996). Funding fruit machine addiction: The hidden crime. Probation Journal, 43, 211-213.

Shulman, T.D. (2011). Cluttered Lives, Empty Souls – Compulsive Stealing, Spending and Hoarding. West Conshohocken, PA: Infinity Publishing.

Yeoman, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Adolescent machine gambling and crime. Journal of Adolescence, 19, 99-104.

Shop until you drop! Can shopping really be addictive?

So far in my articles in this blog, I have tried to argue that behaviours such as gambling, sex, and video game playing can all be viewed as potentially addictive. Empirical research also suggests that the form of addictive behaviour someone develops may depend upon their gender. For instance, men are more likely to be addicted to drugs, gambling and sex whereas women are more likely to suffer from the so-called “mall disorders” such as eating and shopping. For instance, the vast majority of compulsive shoppers (up to 80%) are female.

Compulsive buying has been reported as a way to alter a verity of negative feelings, by achieving short-term gratification through shopping. As with other addictive behaviours, this reward gives shopping its addictive potential, reinforcing the behaviour through pleasure, attention and praise, thereby driving the repetitive and compulsive processes. Compulsive buyers do not buy so much to acquire or gain use from their purchases. Instead they do so to achieve this reward, through the buying process itself. Such repetitive behaviour can – in extreme cases – be problematic. However, those affected may not initially see the behaviour as a problem. In fact, at an early stage it may be seen as providing a quick, perhaps impulsive, relief from anxiety or emotional distress. Consequently, individuals may be unaware of the negative consequences to follow

Compulsive buying disorder was first described clinically in 1915 by the German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin in terms of what he called “buying maniacs”. More recently compulsive buying has been described as an example of ‘reactive impulse’. For most people, buying behaviour is a normal routine part of everyday life. However, for compulsive buyers, it is an inability to control an overpowering impulse to buy. This impulse can take over lives, resulting in negative consequences – similar to pathological gambling – such as debt, despite repeated attempts to stop. This can create further economic and emotional problems, such as stress and anxiety, for themselves and their families, which can drive the behaviour to continue by using shopping as a form of relief.

Compulsive buyers have been found to frequently have reactions of anxiety to both external and internal stimuli. Empirical research has highlighted that shopping binges are used as a reaction to such feelings. These binges have been found to be a quick relief from anxiety and stress. However, a compulsive buyer may eventually come to view their behaviour as a “loss of control,” creating additional anxiety and frustration. This can increase the ‘need’ to shop as to relive such feelings.

Prevalence rates of shopping have been highly variable and few studies have been carried out on nationally representative samples. A number of reports place it between 12% to 22% among younger people (including college and university students) though most estimates place it as ranging from 1% to 6% among adults with higher figures being reported in places such as the United States. Perhaps somewhat predictably, low levels of self-esteem have also been reported in compulsive buying populations. It is suggested that compulsive behaviours, particularly compulsive buying, are an attempt to temporarily relieve these feelings of low self-esteem by using the reward gained from buying as validation. Alternatively, low self-esteem may be a negative outcome of engaging in these behaviours, which creates the need for validation.

The direction of the relationship is still debated, causing increasing interest in research. Many compulsive buyers display a clear desire to please through their spending habits, portraying a sense of social desirability. This is often done through buying gifts for others, often with the belief that such gifts will make their recipients happy. Pleasing others is seen as a way of getting positive attention or being liked, possibly to boost low self-esteem and receive further rewarding properties. Therefore, the product being bought has no direct effect on the individual. It is the process of buying that creates reward, resulting in a boosting of self-esteem and relief from anxiety that may have increased if the impulse to buy had not been met.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Black, D. W. (2007) A review of compulsive buying disorder. World Psychiatry, 6, 14-18.

Davenport, K., Houston, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Excessive eating and compulsive buying behaviours in women: An empirical pilot study examining reward sensitivity, anxiety, impulsivity, self-esteem and social desirability. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, DOI 10.1007/s11469-011-9332-7.

Dittmar, H. (2005). Compulsive buying-a growing concern? An examination of gender, age, and endorsement of materialistic values as predictors. British Journal of Psychology, 96, 467-491.

Hodgson R.J., Budd R. & Griffiths M. (2001). Compulsive behaviours (Chapter 15). In H. Helmchen, F.A. Henn, H. Lauter & N. Sartorious (Eds) Contemporary Psychiatry. Vol. 3 (Specific Psychiatric Disorders). pp.240-250. London: Springer.

Koran, L.M., Faber, R.J., Aboujaoude, E., Large, M.D., & Serpe, R.T. (2006). Estimated prevalence of compulsive buying behavior in the United States. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163, 1806-1812.

Kukar-Kinney, M., Ridgway. N.M & Monroe, K.B (2009) The relationship between consumers’ tendencies to buy compulsively and their motivations to shop and buy on the internet, Journal of Retailing, 85, 298–307.

MacLaren, V.V., & Best, L.A. (2010). Multiple addictive behaviors in young adults: Student norms for the Shorter PROMIS Questionnaire. Addictive Behaviors, 35, 252-255.

Sussman, S., Lisha, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Prevalence of the addictions: A problem of the majority or the minority? Evaluation and the Health Professions, 34, 3-56.