Are You a Shopaholic? When Spending Becomes an Addiction

A recent study conducted by Stanford University in the American Journal of Psychiatry found an alarming amount of people are shopaholics across the United States! The study interviewed 2,513 adults, analyzing their buying attitudes and behaviors, their consequences, and the respondent’s financial and demographic data to determine the approximate percentage of Americans dealing with compulsive spending issues. The results indicated that about 6% of women and 5.5% of men are compulsive buyers! These numbers represent a notably high percentage of the population (some estimates were as low as 1.8%) and raises the question as to the cause of these behaviors, and if “compulsive spenders” have enough access to, and are receiving the necessary time and attention within the clinical setting.

James Smithers, the President and Founder of Polaris Counseling, says this, “Firstly, I think it is important to note that women are no more likely to be compulsive buyers than men! Many people make the assumption that women are more “susceptible” to compulsive buying. It turns out that is not the case. Compulsive spending, like so many other addictions, is an impulse control disorder. People that spend compulsively, feel compelled to buy. For compulsive spenders the urge becomes so great, that not having the money or fearing the financial implications of spending is no deterrent in doing so. Like many other addictions, the act of spending quickly alleviates the emotional tension and allows the person to return to a relative feeling of normality.

What drives someone to spend compulsively can vary from person to person. Most compulsive buyers tend to spend as a way to manage the chaos and uncertainty of their lives. When they buy something and own it, they can control it. Others will spend because they were financially deprived as a child, and buy to avoid an irrational fear of returning to that period of their life. Some may have been given gifts by a parent as a substitute for time or attention, and buy to evoke feelings of love and security.

Regardless of the etiology, the prevalence of compulsive spending is high and needs to be taken more seriously within our industry. There is no diagnosis for compulsive spending with the DSM IV (the manual clinicians use to make diagnosis for their clients) and very few agencies within the mental health field specialize or even offer these services to the community. Compulsive spending can be as destructive as any other addiction, often putting families through financial hardships, destroying relationships and splitting families apart. Shopaholics are here and desperately need help.”

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