New research could explain compulsive buying, help develop a new screening tool to diagnose the condition and help people avoid the worst consequences of the condition.

Compulsive buying is a complex behavioural addiction which compels people to purchase things they don’t need in order to reduce anxiety or bolster low self-esteem. It can have profound psychological and financial consequences for sufferers and their families, and may affect, in a severe form, about 1.9% of the population, particularly in lower income and younger age groups. Recent estimates suggest that the condition is becoming more widespread.
Previous studies have defined compulsive buying as an impulse control disorder, an obsessive compulsive disorder or a combination of both, with no clear agreement over its cause. More recent research has linked the condition with addiction symptoms such as craving, withdrawal and loss of self-control.
Now a new study, just published in the Journal of Consumer Behaviour, has re-examined compulsive buying, tested existing screening tools and developed an effective way for the condition to be diagnosed. The researchers, from the University of Salford and Sheffield Hallam University, found that compulsive buying stems from an uncontrollable compulsion and a lack of self-control to resist spending rather than an impulsive response to external stimuli.
Agata Maccarrone-Eaglen,senior lecturer at the University of Salford and lead author on the paper,said: “What seems to be happening is that compulsion to buy is an uncontrollable reaction to anxiety and/or low self-esteem, having similar characteristics to addiction; it makes people buy things and spend excessively and they are unable to rationalise their behaviour.”
She adds: “Our study develops a new screening tool for compulsive buying and provides improved opportunities for more effective diagnosis and intervention, which will enable people to resolve the underlying issues and avoid the potentially devastating consequences of the disorder.”
Co-author of the research Professor Peter Schofield, from Sheffield Hallam University’s Business School,said: “Compulsive buying can have a serious impact both psychologically and financially. We hope our study will lead to improved understanding of the behaviour, to more accurate diagnosis and to more effective intervention.”

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