In Las Vegas, an heiress estranged from her family spends an average of $30,000 per month on an extravagant lifestyle that includes buying $5,500 dresses and $3,000 shoes.
In Hawthorne, Calif., a 24-year-old part-time disc jockey can drop $300 a week at a 99 Cents Only Store, borrowing money from friends and falling behind in her bills.
These and other shoppers whose overspending has spiraled out of control are the focus of “My Shopping Addiction,” a new show on Oxygen premiering at 11 Tonight. Featured, too, are the experts who can help them.
About 10 percent of Americans are compulsive shoppers or compulsive spenders – men, women, people of all ages, said Terrence Shulman, founder/director of the Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending & Hoarding (www.theshulmancenter.com) in Michigan.
For many people, shopping is an activity they enjoy – but can control.
“They use it as entertainment, the way some people can go gambling and have a nice evening at the casino, set a certain limit on how much they’re betting and be done with it at the end of the night,” said Nicole S. Urdang, a local licensed mental health counselor who specializes in holistic psychotherapy.
“Other people can’t,” she said.
And these are the people who can venture into dangerous territory.
“On a behavioral level, they show many behaviors that are similar to the behaviors that people who are addicted to substances show. The underlying changes to the brain may be similar, but the impact of experiences like shopping are less powerful and slower to develop,” said Kenneth E. Leonard, director of University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions.
“Whether or not shopping is an addiction, it can clearly be a problem,” he said. “People have many things that they do over and over that create problems for them that are not addictions in the way we typically think about them.”
So where does one cross the line between shopping because they enjoy it – and shopping because they can’t stop?
“I would say that it is a similar definition to alcoholism. The definition that I use for alcoholism is you have a serious drinking problem when your alcohol use negatively affects any aspect of your life, whether it’s your health, your finances, your relationships, your work, your family responsibilities and your psychological health,” Urdang said.
“If your shopping is to the extent that you are heavily in debt, you have clothes or items in your house or closets with the original tags on them, you’re giving up other enjoyable activities to shop, staying up late at night to shop on the Internet and are exhausted at work the next day – or people are concerned about your shopping – then I would say you might want to look at it,” she said.
On the website www.shopaholicsanonymous.org, the Shulman Center describes various types of behaviors exhibited by these shoppers:
• Compulsive shoppers – they shop to distract feelings.
• Trophy shoppers –they want that “perfect” thing.
• Image shoppers – they want highly visible stuff.
• Bargain shoppers – they’re out for the hunt for good deals.
• Codependent shoppers – they’re buying for others to gain love or approval.
• Bulimic shoppers – they buy and return, buy and return.
• Collector shoppers –they want to complete or have many sets of objects; different colors of same styles.
One local retailer noted there are some – but not a lot of – customers who are attached to a certain manufacturer and want to keep building their inventory, always adding new releases.
“When there is a collection that is constantly changing and every couple weeks something new comes in, they have to come in and get everything in that collection. Then two weeks later they are back in again,” said the retailer, who preferred not to be named.
What causes overshopping – whether it’s in stores, on Internet shopping sites or TV shopping channels?
Emotional deprivation in childhood, inability to tolerate negative feelings, need to fill an inner void and excitement-seeking are a few causes noted by the Shulman Center.
The temptation is always there. “We live in an addictive world, and everywhere you go you are going to be tempted so you really have to often get the help of a trained professional, an ongoing support group, educate family and really be alert to the potential trigger. It’s complicated work, and the goal is not to completely stop shopping, which is unrealistic, but to help people understand what is really going on,” the center said.
As with hoarding, identifying the underlying causes can help turn things around. “If you watch one of those hoarding shows, usually at the end of the show the person is crying. Why are they crying? It may be different for everybody – there are a lot of different reasons – but certainly it brought up a lot of emotional material,” Urdang said.