ABU DHABI // With mega malls, 24-hour shop openings during public holidays and month-long shopping festivals, the UAE is world renowned as a destination for consumers.
Researchers, however, say the lure of shopping and the effect it has on us needs more study after nearly half of a sample of female students at Zayed University showed signs of a condition characterised as compulsive buying disorder, or CBD.
The study, carried out by psychology graduate Salwa Al Menhali, found that 44 per cent of the 88 women aged 18 to 30 who were studied displayed signs linked with the condition.
“Research has suggested that this disorder is most prevalent among young adults,” said Ms Al Menhali, a 22-year-old Emirati. “Most agreed that when they have money, they feel a need to spend it.”
Dr Justin Thomas, a psychology lecturer at the university, said studies had shown non-essential items such as make-up, shoes and clothes were the top purchases for women who suffer from the disorder, which he said is much underestimated and poorly studied.
“For a lot of psychologists, you don’t see it a lot,” he said. “It’s not had the status as a disorder, but shopping addiction is seen as an ‘almost disorder’ and hasn’t been taken seriously.”
Dr Thomas said the fact the UAE has more per capita shopping spaces than anywhere in the world could make the condition more prevalent.
“There are relatively high levels of disposable income, a young population and, if there is such a thing as CBD, which I believe there is, you’re highly likely to see it here.”
Maryam, a study participant, said that she feels addicted to buying make-up and has even developed strategies to prevent her from being tempted, such as going to cinemas in malls only after 10pm, when the shops are closed, and taking longer routes to her destinations to avoid stores.
However, she said online shopping was always a temptation and she can spend up to Dh2,000 a month.
The 21-year-old also said she did not just buy one item, instead shelling out on batches of three at a time.
Ms Al Menhali said CBD could be linked to people’s attitudes towards money. “People have easy access to credit cards, there is high income in the UAE and a lot of media influence. Many people get into debt and have loans,” she said.
Maryam, whose spending is financed by her parents, said: “I always feel guilty but I just keep doing it. Maybe because I don’t have anything to pay for so I just waste my money on make-up.”
Dr Thomas said that living with CBD can be a daily struggle. “The behaviour Maryam displays, the change of mood, the avoidance strategies, the tension, is similar to what you’d see in a drug addict who’s clean and doesn’t want to fall off the wagon.”
Ms Al Menhali said most of the women surveyed also showed signs of depression. “Depression has been linked with this disorder in research and most of the women showed signs of depression,” she said. “But it needs more research.”
Maryam said her compulsion was boosted by the sense of happiness it gave her. “I know that what I’m doing is wrong. Make-up makes me happy though,” she said. “I feel happy when I’m wearing make-up.”