Inside the Alarming World of a Shopping Addict

Jessica Schiffer

Most of us enjoy shopping, especially those of us who consider fashion a hobby, but at the end of the day, our lives don’t revolve around it. We may covet numerous items, but we try to remain realistic about our finances, only buying what we can afford, and what we’ll really wear. Sure, there are occasional slip-ups—after all, nobody’s perfect—but generally we keep our shopping habits in control.

However, for a small subset of the population—compulsive shoppers—the opposite is true, and though it may not seem as dangerous on the surface, it’s an addiction on the level of alcoholism and drug abuse. Interestingly, it tends to affect the younger generations, often starting in the late teens to early 20’s. According to Donald Black, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, the addiction has to do with “impulsiveness and lack of control over one’s impulses.” So what does that boil down to, exactly?

Chronically spending over budget, an inability to buy just one item, a tendency to hide purchases, impaired relationships due to self-destructive shopping behaviors, and regular consequences resulting from shopping. Like food and alcohol addiction, it follows a binge-purge cycle that comes with feelings of shame and guilt. “If [someone is] no longer in control of their shopping but their shopping is in control of them, they’ve crossed the line,” says Rick Zehr, the vice president of addiction and behavioral services at the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery.

He goes on to note that these people “buy with the idea that their purchase will relieve some emotional pain, ranging from low self-esteem to childhood trauma.” And as with other addictions, when a person takes part in the destructive behavior, the opiate receptors in their brain are turned on, causing them to feel momentary relief. But that’s the issue—it isn’t a real solution for whatever personal problems the shopper might be avoiding, in fact it tends to only make them worse.

To find out what that might look like, I spoke to a young woman named Claire whose mother struggles with severe shopping addiction. Scroll down to see what she had to say on the matter.

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