Her experience conforms to the Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale, created by Norwegian psychology professors last year, which distinguishes shopping addiction from enjoyment by determining whether the subject thinks about buying stuff all the time, feels like they have to buy more to get the same feeling as they used to, and if it has negatively impacted their well-being or ability to participate in their normal life.Shopping addiction, like a lot of other rewarding behaviours, shares the same neuropsychological explanation as substance abuse. "On the surface, chemical and behavioural addictions look quite different', Dr Jansari, a professor of cognitive neuropsychology from Goldsmiths University, tells me over the phone. "But we know from studies on gaming addiction for example, that similar parts of the brain are involved. So when you show a cocaine user a video of someone shooting up, a certain part of the brain – the reward centre – gets activated, and neurotransmitters get released. We know that the same parts of the brain get activated in a brain scanner when a gaming addict sees their favourite games."Ben, a self-confessed spending addict, told me over the phone that there's "definitely some funky wiring going on. It's almost like I trick myself into buying things, and then after the fact it's like, 'How did that happen?'. I think other addicts can relate, it's like they indulge even though they told themselves it wouldn't happen."
Shopping addiction, like a lot of other rewarding behaviours, shares the same neuropsychological explanation as substance abuse
But there is some confusion as to whether compulsive shopping is an illness of itself, or a symptom of something else going on. Bill, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 34, was keen to impress that he would not class himself as an addict. Rather, "one of the many symptoms of bipolar disorder is an extreme impulsiveness, and many are given to fits of shopping. Like Stephen Fry mentions his obsession with gadgets in his first documentary on the subject."Ben says he feels his mental illness and spending addictions "feed into each other". For him, it might be said that he isn't addicted to the euphoria of spending itself, but rather the momentary relief from overwhelming feelings of anxiety and depression. "It can feel like an easy way to," he says. "Just by clicking buy to give yourself a little pick-me-up."
The ubiquity and accessibility of internet shopping seems to enable a lot of addicts, with reports tellingly stating that they spend on average four times longer online than the rest of us