News Release 

Help for serious shopaholics

When does excessive buying become a disorder?

Flinders University

Research News

For the first time, international experts in psychology have built a framework to diagnose Compulsive Buying-Shopping Disorder - promising help for people struggling to manage their spending behaviour and mental wellbeing.

The new guidelines, published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, confirms that excessive buying and shopping can be so serious as to constitute a disorder, giving researchers and clinicians new powers to develop more targeted interventions for this debilitating condition.

The international collaboration, led by Professor Mike Kyrios from Flinders University's Órama Institute for Mental Health and Wellbeing and Professor Astrid Müller from the Hannover Medical School in Germany, say evidence-based criteria for Compulsive Buying-Shopping Disorder (CBSD) are long overdue.

The phenomenon of excessive or uncontrolled buying or shopping has been described in a clinical setting for more than a century. Surprisingly, to date there is no formally accepted diagnosis for the disorder, despite being a highly prevalent, disabling and growing problem that contributes to overconsumption and debt.

Professor Kyrios describes the findings as a "game-changer" for research in the area of excessive buying, providing a springboard for much-needed treatments and better diagnostic processes in the future.

"In over 20 years, since I started investigating excessive buying, there has been an absence of commonly agreed diagnostic criteria which has hampered the perceived seriousness of the problem, as well as research efforts and consequently the development of evidence-based treatments," Professor Kyrios says.

This will now be possible with the world's leading experts agreeing on diagnostic criteria for the disorder, he says.

In the study, 138 international experts (researchers and clinicians) from 35 countries were evaluated to develop a consensus about proposed diagnostic criteria.

A key feature of the new diagnostic criteria is "excessive purchasing of items without utilising them for their intended purposes", with excessiveness described as "diminished control over buying/shopping". Another characteristic of the disorder is that "buying/shopping is used to regulate internal states, e.g., generating positive emotions or relieving negative mood".

"Clients who show excessive buying behaviour commonly have difficulties in regulating their emotions, so buying or shopping is then used to feel better. Paradoxically, if someone with Compulsive Buying-Shopping Disorder goes on a shopping trip, this will briefly improve their negative feelings, but will soon lead to strong feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment."

The Delphi research method was used to reach consensus from the panel of experts on a very complex psychological disorder.

"The Delphi technique is an ideal method to integrate diverse perspectives from international and interdisciplinary experts in the field of Compulsive Buying-Shopping Disorder," says co-investigator Dr Dan Fassnacht, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Flinders University.

"This helped us to developed diagnostic criteria featuring large agreement among experts in the field, and is an important milestone to better understand and treat this behaviour."

Dr Kathina Ali, Research Fellow at Flinders University and co-investigator of the study adds: "Previously, it was difficult to compare studies without agreed criteria. Now for the first time, we can start examining Compulsive Buying-Shopping Disorder more precisely which should help us the improve our treatments for this disabling condition."

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The study was an international collaboration with researchers from the Hannover Medical School at the University of Duisburg-Essen and University of Dresden in Germany funded by the German Academic Exchange Service and Universities Australia.

The paper 'Proposed diagnostic criteria for compulsive buying-shopping disorder: A Delphi expert consensus study' (2021) by Astrid Müller, Nora M. Laskowski, Patrick Trotzke, Kathina Ali, Daniel B Fassnacht, Martina de Zwaan, Matthias Brand, Michael Häder and Michael Kyrios has been published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, DOI: 10.1556/2006.2021.00013

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