This is why Black Friday can be damaging for those with addictive traits

Black Friday has cemented itself as a key date in our calendars over the past decade, as many jump on heavily-discounted items during the run-up to Christmas.

But it’s not just one day anymore.

Black Friday deals run all the way over the weekend and finish up on Cyber Monday – but retailers also lay on a whole host of discounts beforehand, to stir-up excitement.

In fact, the annual shopping extravaganza lasts almost a week in total – and it’s just around the corner.

However, as we brace ourselves to be bombarded with deals and discounts, it’s important to be aware of a more sinister side to the yearly shopping event.

‘Shopping extravaganzas, like Black Friday, can promote unhealthy behaviours surrounding overindulgence. If we aren’t careful, this seemingly fun event can damage our mental health,’ explains Ray Sadoun, a mental health and addiction recovery specialist.

‘Black Friday has become so normalised in the UK over the past few years. We have jumped on board the train of overspending and we aren’t exactly mad about it.

‘Many of us rely on Black Friday to offer us the best Christmas deals, and we are even willing to put all our plans aside for the day to get our hands on the best products. 

‘However, we need to take a look at the darker side of Black Friday. For people with addictive personalities, it’s a breeding ground for poor mental health.’ 

So while we’re quick to celebrate incredible discounts, we need to think about the wider impact that these commercial initiatives can have on our mental health.

Shopping in this way can promote addiction

We all know the rush of dopamine we get from online shopping can be problematic – and this can even spiral into a serious addiction.

People with addictive personalities tend to cling to things that give them this dopamine, which could be drugs, alcohol, food, sex, relationships and shopping – amongst many other things. And the reason they become dependent on these is because they are able to briefly forget about their problems when they indulge in them. 

‘For example, when you purchase something, you get a rush of dopamine that can temporarily numb your emotions,’ adds Ray.

‘This is intensified on Black Friday as there is the added element of competition.

‘It can be thrilling to get your hands on a gift that is in high demand, and in some cases, to even argue with a stranger about who saw the gift first and leave with the gift in your basket. 

‘However, the problem with this rush of dopamine that we get on Black Friday is that it doesn’t last and it certainly doesn’t solve our problems.

‘Once it fades, we are forced to face our issues again, and if we feel unable to, we turn to shopping once more. 

‘This is how a cycle of addiction is born.’

It’s disguised as ‘helping’

We’ve all heard of the term ‘retail therapy’ – so we are familiar with the idea that buying something new can make us feel a little better for a short period of time. 

This is where it gets dangerous for those with addictive traits – as shopping habits can be disguised as ‘helpful.’

Martin Preston, founder and CEO of private rehab clinic Delamere, tells ‘Compulsive shoppers use the ritual of browsing, purchasing and spending in order to escape negative feelings. Underpinning the process is often something unresolved or untreated – it might be trauma, depression, anxiety, boredom, anger or low self-esteem that is really driving them.   

‘Someone struggling with a shopping addiction will often attempt to shop their way out of the problems caused by their last spree. Their problems pile up and they have to shop more, or at least that’s how it seems. 

‘The cycle of addiction gathers momentum and it can feel as if there is no way out.’

It’s this instant gratification that can be incredibly misleading, explains Philip Karahassan, a BACP counsellor and founder of Therapy in London.

He says: ‘When you consider an individual with an addictive personality, you are constantly battling with the urge for instant gratification. As an example, addicts can usually find this with slot machines or easing anxiety with alcohol.

‘If you usually find Christmas stressful or daunting because of the expectations on you to buy great gifts, then Black Friday can be that instant gratification.’

Because shoppers are urged to spent their money in a time sensitive manner, Black Friday encourages those with addictive traits to act more impulsively – adding fuel to the fire.

It can cause financial problems 

In a similar way to a gambling addiction, an online shopping addiction has the potential to cause huge financial problems.

Ray says: ‘Not only can Black Friday promote addiction, but it can also be incredibly impractical for people who cannot afford to be spending money on expensive gifts.

‘Lots of people end up in precarious financial situations after Black Friday, which is a significant trigger for mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. 

‘When they choose to blow their budget on Black Friday offers, they are actually engaging in self-destructive behaviour as they know they cannot afford it.

‘This is likely to cause them to feel ashamed after the fact, which can encourage them to keep their addiction private.’

So not only can Black Friday encourage addictive behaviours, but it can have a knock-on financial impact – resulting in debt shame and far-reaching mental health issues.

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