Over the past several months of quarantine, many have begun to develop new dependencies to get through their repetitive daily slog. Alcoholism and reliance on drugs like marijuana have seen a noticeable increase since lockdown began, but perhaps more than any drug – shopping has become an addiction. The rush of satisfaction one receives after completing the purchase of something you really want delivers a flood of good feelings into the brain that few other activities can compare to.
Shopping releases dopamine, the neurotransmitter which controls pleasure inside the human brain. While one may assume the tactile sensations of a retail store, being able to literally see and touch the item you want before you purchase it, would release far more dopamine than simply clicking the ‘Order Now’ button on Amazon – but this is likely not the case.
Dopamine is built up not just through the act of experiencing pleasure, but in fact, is far stronger during the anticipation of that experience. So, while one may expect the delay between purchase and receiving intrinsic to online shopping to end up releasing less dopamine, the build of anticipation for your package to arrive actually increases it far more than if you had gone out and bought the product in person.
This dehumanization, this distance that online shopping provides is perhaps the most addictive element about it. Instead of having to face a tough decision of picking up the product you want to buy, taking it to the register and parting with your hard-earned cash to buy it – with online shopping you are far more detached from the process, only able to see images of what you wish to buy and the money you use to purchase it doesn’t come from your wallet, but from the bank account that you associate much less with your basic expenses. Impulse purchasing has gone from taking several minutes, to a single click of a button.
Like any addiction, the true danger that comes from compulsive shopping comes once you have developed a tolerance for it. Once the simple, small purchases lose the dopamine rush which fueled them – a shopping addict will presumably move onto spending more and more on goods which are useful only for luxury. There have been many cautionary tales of people’s savings being entirely wiped out by their own addiction to shopping online, or by that of a family member. So, as your finger hovers over the order button on that new thing you just have to own – just take a step back for a few moments, and truly consider the implications of your purchases. Not just towards your finances, but to your happiness and mental health.
If you or a loved one needs help with an addiction, mental health disorder, or eating disorder, O’Connor Professional Group is here. Call (617) 221-8764 or view our consultation services to see how we can help.