Subscription Addiction: Definition, Common Signs & Options For Help


Are you struggling with a subscription addiction?

While this may seem like an unusual thing to be addicted to, you’re not as alone in this as you may think. Many people are addicted to subscribing to things these days.

Fortunately, it is possible to treat this and get yourself back to a better mental place.

What Is a Subscription Addiction?

A subscription addiction is a unique type of addiction characterized by a compulsive need to try and subscribe to as many things as possible.

For many people, this emphasizes physical subscriptions (like mail-order box services), but it can also include digital subscriptions and products.

You can think of this as a kind of bigger shopping addiction. A severely addicted person may receive multiple boxes a week, or even a day, such that they’re constantly opening and consuming things.

The difference between a subscription addiction and a shopping addiction is that subscriptions focus on repeated deliveries of something. Some subscription addicts habitually cancel boxes after trying them once or twice, but addicts can pay hundreds of dollars or more each month for more things they don’t need.

Do Subscription Addiction Urges Go Away?

Subscription addictions can go away over time. It’s difficult to guarantee that you will never have an addictive urge again, but subscription addiction doesn’t have a physical dependency, so it’s easier to control than most addictive drugs.

Forms of Subscription Addiction

Most subscription addictions are identical in manifestation. People usually enjoy ordering products, and as long as you’re not spending too much on them, they’re just an ordinary transaction. For example, most people won’t even question it if you subscribe to a streaming service like Netflix or a pet food supplier.

However, addicts will constantly subscribe to new things, often without much regard for the cost or whether they need the subscription. Some will immediately cancel the subscription after receiving a box to try and keep costs low while others will have dozens or even hundreds of extra subscriptions.

Subscription Addiction Statistics

In a study published for the Financial Times in the UK, researchers found that over 80% of the country had at least one regular subscription. Entertainment is far and away the most common subscription, although this doesn’t fall into the category of addiction by itself.

Food, technology, beauty, books, gardening, health products, and pet supplies are all relatively similar as subscriptions, showing that addicts have plenty to choose from.

Addicts are a component of the growth in revenue throughout the subscription box industry. It was worth only about $57 million in 2011 but hit $2.6 billion by 2016, and that was before the Covid-19 pandemic encouraged people to order things online even more.

Subscriptions have hit over $22.7 billion around 2021, almost a ten-fold increase from five years prior, and it’s expected to grow another three times by 2027.

Today, many addicts focus on curated boxes, which emphasize tailored and thematic products.

What Are the Signs of Subscription Addiction?

Here are some of the most common signs of a subscription addiction. These are much less obvious than a dependency on physical substances, so it may be harder to tell that someone is addicted.

1. Excessive Shopping Times

Subscription addicts may spend a lot of time online, looking for new subscriptions to try out. Some will focus on free trials or special offers, while others don’t mind paying for anything that catches their attention.

2. Money Issues

Subscription addicts tend to have money issues, though wealthier addicts can manage quite a lot of boxes before it begins to severely affect their financial status.

As sites like My Subscription Addiction report, a typical box costs anywhere from $10 to $40. If someone has a $100 monthly entertainment budget, they could realistically subscribe to ten boxes, and increase it in small increments afterward.

3. Hoarding

Some people with subscription addictions display hoarding tendencies. Having too many subscriptions can lead to products piling up around the house. Some addicts will recycle the boxes that products come in, while others will keep the boxes to use as product storage.

This can quickly escalate to where it’s almost impossible to move around a house.

4. Emphasis on Receiving Packages

Subscription addicts often focus more on receiving products than what they’re buying. In many cases, they may forget about something they’ve ordered once they’ve opened the box to look at it and try it out, shoving the products into a pile with everything else they’ve gotten.

5. Talking About Subscriptions

Addicts may like talking about their subscriptions and what they’ve ordered online. It can be hard to see when this changes from ordinary shopping to severe addiction.

For example, if someone tells you that they ordered some new pet toys online for their cat, you’re probably not going to think too hard about it. If they mention a dozen online orders in a 30-minute conversation, that’s a more obvious indicator that something is happening.

6. Hiding Mail

Some subscription addicts take to hiding mail, such as by forbidding anyone else to collect the mail until they’ve had a chance to sort through it.

Severe addicts may change to having a box at the post office where they can collect all of their packages simultaneously. Having a P.O. box can help disguise the number of packages they’re receiving.

7. Shopping as a Solution

Subscription addicts may see shopping as the solution to any problem they’re facing, especially around the house. Rather than dealing with something, they may try to talk other household members into waiting for a box to arrive.

Severe addicts may also disengage from using the products themselves. They may argue that they’re spending the money, so everyone else in the house should do any work required to fix the problem beyond that.

8. Misuse of Credit

Subscription addicts may rely on credit cards or other loan programs to get the money for spending on boxes. Placing everything on credit can also make it hard to track how much they’re spending on subscriptions and where all that money is going.

Some addicts will rotate payments between cards to try and avoid putting off making payments for as long as possible. Severe addicts may even try to get refunds or cancel orders, using credit as a delaying tactic to avoid having to pay the full rate.

9. Hyperfixation

A subscription addict may have brief fixations on specific things, from entertainment to household supplies. For example, every time they watch a show, they may look online to see if there’s a subscription box that provides thematically related products for fans.

Addicts with severe compulsions may focus entirely on one or two things at a time, ignoring everything else they’re buying in the meantime.

10. Types of Unhealthy Subscription Behavior

Subscription addictions can range from relatively minor to severe.

At the minor level, someone may seem impulsive or a little too carefree with their money, saying that they “want to try it out” if anyone asks about the orders they’re making.

At the worst level, someone may fill their living space with boxes and subscription products. They may focus on a particular category of products or order anything that gets their attention.

Subscription addictions can be a reflection of other problems. For example, someone with severe self-esteem issues may be addicted to “health supplement” or “exercise tape” subscriptions.

What Is the Main Cause of Subscription Addiction?

There’s no universal cause of subscription addictions. People start buying things for different reasons, and it’s not as clear-cut as someone developing a physical dependency on drugs.

However, many subscription addictions start from curiosity or a desire to solve a problem. Someone may talk excitedly about things they got in the mail for a pet, and an addict-to-be may order the same thing to try it out.

People often get excited about receiving packages these days, so the idea of frequent and predictable package deliveries can be exciting. From there, an addiction can spiral out of control.

Remember, enjoying buying things online and having fun when you get packages isn’t addiction by itself. People can be happy to get something or upset when it’s delayed or canceled, without even stepping close to the territory of addiction.

The primary point where things are different is that addiction is a much more severe compulsion. If someone can decide that they don’t need things and cancel subscriptions with no issue, they’re probably not addicted.

How Subscription Addiction Affects the Brain

Subscription addiction doesn’t affect the brain as much as drug addictions do, though it can still be hard to break free without outside support.

What Is the Personality of a Subscription Addict?

Subscription addicts tend to display the common signs of an addicted personality, without the unique qualities that can come from abusing specific drugs.

A typical subscription addict may have difficulty managing their funds. They may also tend to eat in excess, especially if they’re ordering food boxes. Some may spend a lot of time on social media, taking pictures of products and talking about using them.

Addiction is compulsive, so people who are full-blown addicts can no longer control themselves or refrain from continuing the addiction without some form of limits.

Is Subscription Addiction a Mental Health Issue?

Yes. Unlike addictions that have a physical dependency, subscription addictions are almost entirely mental. The physical components are any products purchased, but to an addict, these things are largely interchangeable and the specific items matter far less than the act of ordering them.

The good news is that treating a subscription addiction is much easier if you focus on it as a mental health issue. Many subscription addicts respond well to things like addiction therapy, particularly because there are no severe withdrawals to worry about.

What Mental Illnesses Go Hand in Hand With Subscription Addiction?

Subscription addicts may also display signs of depression, anxiety, personality disorders, or schizophrenia.

In these cases, addicts often treat their subscriptions as a fix for problems. They’re looking for positive feelings from receiving products, and hope that the next time they open a box, their life will be better.

Subscription addictions can also trigger an attempt to find a solution that’s safer than using drugs. Many people find the act of shopping stimulating, and ordering a box can feel like a nice distraction from other troubles.

How Do I Stop My Subscription Addiction?

Deciding how to help someone with an addiction requires looking at their unique situation and understanding the basic causes of the addictive behavior.

Can Subscription Addiction Ever Be Cured?

Yes. While people may still feel occasional urges to subscribe to things online, subscription addiction is significantly more treatable than most other types of addiction.

The reason it’s easier to deal with a subscription addiction is that there’s no physical drug dependence, so most people can successfully pivot away and form new mental associations that stop the problematic behavior.

What Is the Most Common Treatment for Subscription Addiction?

The most common treatments for subscription addictions are a mix of helpful support groups and financial controls. Rehab is not necessary for most people with a subscription addiction.

Getting subscriptions requires money, so limiting the ability to make payments can help curb impulsive tendencies. For example, a man who is addicted to body-building subscriptions may hand all credit and debit cards over to his wife, who will make all purchases for the two of them until the addiction is broken.

While this happens, an addict may go through something like cognitive behavioral therapy or talk to a psychologist to understand the cause of the compulsive behavior and how to redirect it into something healthier.

Severe addicts may require an intervention where family members will physically remove funding, cancel subscriptions, and demand that the addict change. Addictions can be hard to break right away, so interventions require monitoring to ensure success.

What Can I Replace Subscription With?

The best way to replace an addiction to subscribing to things is with a more immediate, healthy behavior that won’t cause financial harm. Some people will orient towards things like cleaning their house, gardening, or volunteering.

Try to avoid switching to anything else with addictive qualities. Things like video games and gambling can replace a subscription addiction with a different addiction, and that defeats the purpose of trying to get clean.

Some people also find benefits from going outside more and disconnecting from pop culture. Living a slower life for a while can help people appreciate a simpler existence that doesn’t require constantly purchasing new things to provide happiness.

Additional Addictions to Be Aware Of

Here are some other kinds of addiction that can overlap with a subscription addiction.

  • Gambling Addiction: Compulsive gamblers are always chasing the next big win at a casino, with an unrealistic dream of a jackpot that will solve all their problems.
  • Internet Addiction: Internet addicts are terminally online, almost unable to function if they’re not surfing the web or interacting on social media often enough.
  • Dopamine Addiction: Dopamine addiction is a complex state of constantly trying to feel pleasure regardless of the method, and irregularities with accessing it can trigger depression or risky behaviors.

Wrapping Up

Having a subscription addiction may not be as severe as being dependent on drugs, but it’s still a problematic state that can have serious effects on your finances and ability to enjoy life. If you or someone you know has a subscription addiction, get some help today to break free of it.


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