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Last Updated: Monday, 2 July 2007, 08:58 GMT 09:58 UK
Can you be addicted to eBay?
By Helen Soteriou

eBay is hugely popular
Is it possible to become addicted to the online auction site eBay?

Dr Kimberly Young certainly thinks so, and she says increasing numbers of people are showing signs of developing a problem.

But others believe that to bandy around the term addiction in such a context is to cheapen a problem which, in other contexts, can destroy lives.

EBay enables people to buy and sell just about anything.

One woman was in debt by $400,000 and took a second mortgage out on her home and all the money from her retirement account
Dr Kimberly Young

But Dr Young believes it is not item itself that gives people an addictive buzz, but the excitement of bidding against others for it, and winning.

In moderate cases, she says eBay addicts will be there for the last few minutes of an online auction ready to outbid and bag the prize - 'snipers' as they are called in eBay circles.

It gets more serious when eBay addicts feel a sense of accomplishment when they are the highest bidder and begin to bid on items they don't need.

Dr Young established the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery in Bradford, Pennsylvania, in 1995. It was the first of its kind to specialise specifically in cyber-related problems.

It has developed an online screening tool for individuals to assess whether they show signs of addiction to auction houses.

Answer yes to any of a series of probing questions about these sites, and Dr Young believes you could be addicted.

Do you need to bid with increasing amounts of money to achieve the desired excitement?
Do you think about auction houses when you are offline?
Have you lied to friends and family members to conceal extent of your online bidding?
Do you feel restless or irritable when attempting to cut down?
Have you made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop online bidding?
Do you use auction houses as a way of escaping from problems?
Have you jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, or career opportunity because of online bidding?
Have you committed illegal acts such as forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzlement to finance online activities?

Who seeks therapy?

"Mostly people that have financial and relationship problems," said Dr Young.

"Some people come because they have been fired from work - doing eBay at work is not permitted, so they seek therapy after something like this happens.

"One woman was in debt by $400,000 and took a second mortgage out on her home and all the money from her retirement account.

"Her husband was furious when he found out. It does get pretty bad, with the lies to sustain the behaviour."

Dr Young's program helps clients address the underlying issues maintaining this behaviour, and how to refocus their attentions towards healthier outlets that boost their self-confidence.

There is also practical advice for individuals who feel they may have a problem, but do not want to seek formal therapy.

Top tips

Professor Mark Griffiths, expert in technological addictions at Nottingham Trent University, suggests:

  • External stoppers: If you spend too much time on eBay, keep a clock by your computer and limit yourself to smaller chunks of time online.

  • Slowly cutting down: Try to cut down the amount of time you spend on eBay slowly over time.

  • Time management: Try and log on towards the end of the day when you have fulfilled all other responsibilities.

  • Have a good support network: Let those who are closest to you know that you have a problem. Successful treatment of addiction is greatly helped by having a stable loving support network.

Encouragingly, Dr Young has not seen a sharp rise in individuals seeking treatment.

She said: "It's been steady over the last five or six years, but it feels that addiction services need to take this more seriously, as eBay addiction is light-heartedly banded around in everyday conversation.

"I think they need to address Internet addiction in general more systematically - and eBay is just one subtype."

'Not a real addiction'

But others are far from convinced by the concept of internet addiction.

By over applying the addiction label we are in danger of both unduly scaring the public and trivialising the negative impacts of genuine addiction cases
Dr Richard Wood
Nottingham Trent University

Dr Richard Wood, a senior lecturer and addictions expert also based at Nottingham Trent University, said: "My own view is that the label "addiction" is being over used and incorrectly applied.

"There is no such diagnosis as "eBay" addiction that has been incorporated into any respectable criteria.

"Instead people like Dr Young are adapting the criteria for substance abuse and/or pathological gambling."

However, Dr Wood said drug addiction was far more common - and had much more profound implications for health and criminality.

"Of course, some people will do all kinds of activities too much if they are distracting enough to allow them to escape from their reality.

"I would argue that these are not bona-fide cases of addiction unless the activity itself has severe negative consequences, that the experience itself is the main driver of their behaviour, and that it affects enough people that it can be considered problematic in and of itself.

"eBay does not fit into that category.

"Furthermore, by over applying the addiction label we are in danger of both unduly scaring the public and trivialising the negative impacts of genuine addiction cases."

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