Consumerism: The Addiction of the Collective

Unnecessary consumerism is something that we as a society are indisputably guilty of. For most, the high that comes with placing a spontaneous online order is unmatched. The feeling of admiring your purchases after a tiresome but worthwhile day of shopping is one of ecstasy. Many people are no strangers to having a ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’ moment, or partaking in some retail therapy – but when do these moments of pleasure become addictions? Are we victims of the drug that is consumerism?

There’s an undeniable truth to the term ‘retail therapy’. Shopping provides us with comfort. Due to the unpredictability of the pandemic and with high street shops shut as a result of lockdown, it is only natural for us to view online shopping as a form of consolation. The routine of online shopping and the knowledge of our package eventually arriving provides us with a sense of stability which is becoming increasingly scarce.

The more I think about consumerism and addiction in general, the more evident the parallels and similarities between the two become. Their most intrinsic commonality is the increase in dopamine they both provide us with. Without getting too scientific, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released in the brain when we anticipate temporary pleasure. We begin to associate this feeling with certain actions or substances. Our dopamine levels are increased through alcohol, drugs and of course, shopping. When we are shopping, dopamine is set off in our brain as we anticipate ‘rewards’ in the form of bargains and purchases.

What if we could get double the dopamine hit in one purchase? That’s where online shopping comes in. Not only do we experience the rush of placing an order containing one too many pairs of jeans, we get a second feeling of ecstasy when the Fastway driver rings our doorbell. From the range of night out outfits we once used to stockpile to the surge in online shopping as a result of lockdown boredom – the internet is only fuelling our consumption addiction.

In time, the buzz we get from shopping becomes more important than the experience itself. We replicate a drug addict’s actions when we purchase clothes ‘just for the sake of it’. We acquire the mannerisms of an alcoholic when ordering unnecessary items on Amazon. We are aware of these facts, yet we still consume. Why? The capitalist society in which we live encourages us to keep buying newer and ‘better’ items. We purchase more for fear of failing to meet capitalistic standards. We long for material items to fill a void in our lives.

Of course, the consequences of having a heroin addiction and a shopping addiction differ enormously. For fashion lovers, consumerism is a natural instinct. It’s almost unavoidable. Although I have drastically reduced the amount of shopping I do, I still have a Pinterest board dedicated to everything I want to (and will) purchase for the summer months. But there’s a fine line between a relatively harmless activity and an all-consuming (pun not intended) addiction. 

We buy material items in the hope of obtaining emotional satisfaction, yet most of the time are unsuccessful. Automatically seeking happiness through purchasing a new outfit may provide momentary satisfaction, but yet again the ever present issues are ignored. The pattern then repeats. It’s a vicious cycle that is inherently linked to capitalism – trends fade, and we instinctively seek more. Perhaps we should seek excitement in the items we already possess, and the next time a Pretty Little Thing ad lands in your inbox; resist the temptation. It isn’t solely the environment that they’re ruining, they aren’t doing wonders for your mental state either.