It may be fun to venture to the local department store with your friends and have a Saturday afternoon bonding session in the shoe department.
It also may be rewarding to treat yourself to the latest handbag from Juicy Couture’s spring collection when you’ve accomplished something at work.
But the question that should be asked is when does shopping for pleasure turn into shopping to fill a void and becomes a true addiction?
‘Ever since I was young the term addiction has been associated with something bad and I don’t see how shopping could be bad,’ Diana Bouchaaya, 18-year-old undeclared major at CSUN, said.
Compulsive shopping has never been a form of addiction people have openly discussed and categorized as a potentially hazardous behavior, or even acknowledged as a true addiction. Unlike drugs, it’s legal and everyone does it.
‘There’s some obsessive thought that’s alleviated by the compulsive act,’ Dr. Barbara Lazarus, professor of sociology at CSUN, said.
Lazarus, a practicing marriage-family therapist, said with obsessive-compulsive disorder it’s the nervous thoughts about something that make a person commit a compulsion to deal with the anxiety.
The multi-faceted behavior is more complex than one would think or see depicted in the new movie ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic.’
In the film, the lead character Rebecca Bloomwood, played by Isla Fisher, has all the designer apparel she could get her hands on. The only problem is she can’t exactly afford to pay for any of them.
Based on the book series by author Sophie Kinsella, Bloomwood enjoys the thrill of shopping more than the actual handbags, shoes and clothes she’s buying.
The comedic approach the film took on a disorder which affects 17 million Americans, according to a Stanford University study conducted in 2006, masked the true reasons why people take their shopping habits to an uncontrollable level.
‘It’s not so much the item. It’s the experience,’ Terrence Shulman, founder of The Shulman Center, said.
When a person steps into a store and sees an array of items, it’s not the product that intrigues them. People get hooked to shopping and become shopaholics because of the high they get when they commit the act, Shulman said.
At the center, located in Franklin, Mich., Shulman focuses on helping people with theft and overspending disorders. The programs offered at the center help target the reasons why people overspend and steal.
Shulman, a recovering shopaholic, defines the behavior as excessive shopping or spending that a person has trouble stopping on their own which leads to negative consequences.
‘It’s almost like a drug,’ Shulman said.
‘They’ll have a crash and then they’ll go back to spending more money,’ Dr. Kristyan Kouri, professor in the sociology and gender and women’s studies departments at CSUN, said.
Like any addiction, there are underlying reasons. Certain occupations place demands on people to be up to date on the latest trends, Kouri said.
As social beings, we want to fit in with our friends, and the culture we live in further induces the behavior, Kouri said.
The pressure to be trendy and always have the latest version of any gadget is felt in many age groups, particularly college students, Shulman said.
Societal pressures on young people encourage them to continually make sure they’re not behind their peers on the trends so they don’t feel alienated from them, Shulman said.
Monica Gomez, 18-year-old sociology major, doesn’t shop with the intent to fill a void or to be up on the latest trends, but instead shops with the mindset of what she needs.
‘I don’t see myself getting a high out of it,’ Gomez said about compulsive shopping. Gomez herself doesn’t possess the behavior, but she shared how her cousin, now 19, was a shopaholic when she began college.
‘She would spend her whole paycheck of a week fixing up her car (with accessories),’ Gomez said.
Her cousin’s breaking point came when she realized her shopping had escalated to the degree that she couldn’t pay for gas. Even though the shopping has calmed down, Gomez said, during the time period her cousin had the addictive behavior nothing could have helped her realize what she was doing to herself.
Another factor, which needs to be distinguished, is the difference between wanting to buy something nice for yourself and using the act of shopping to replace a void in your life.
‘For some people it’s a way of dealing with loneliness,’ Kouri said. People compulsively shop to fill voids in their life due to loss of loved ones, break-ups, personal self-esteem and feelings of neglect, Shulman said.
Just as how turning to alcohol in states of depression to ease one’s pain and help forget about one’s problems, shopping has the same effect for compulsive shoppers, Shulman said.
Even though for a brief moment a person may think all their problems have vanished with the swipe of their credit card at their favorite retailer, they fail to remember the repercussions waiting for them as a result of the behavior.
‘It’s a bottomless pit because you can keep buying, but you’re never satisfied,’ Shulman said.
Like all other addictions, at the end of the day compulsive shopping leads to a cycle of negativity, Shulman said.
People who possess these behavior characteristics don’t necessarily think about the consequences of their compulsive purchases. The irony is the more they shop, the more stressed they are about the debt, Shulman said.
‘People don’t want to admit they’re out of control,’ Shulman said.
Shulman further listed that possessing the constant need to go shopping can lead to being distracted from daily activities, such as school. It can impair relationships with family and friends, where the individual resorts to lying about the severity of their addiction and hides the amount of shopping they are really doing.
In order for a compulsive shopper to tackle their destructive behavior they must work on their self-esteem, Shulman said. Once the reasons why the person is seeking fulfillment with shopping are understood, then the recovery process can begin.
The goal is not to never have them shop, but to discipline them and have them focus on the recovery ‘so the hole inside is somewhat filled,’ Shulman said.
Many people have the shopaholic mentality because our culture induces it, Kouri said. But 17 million Americans have an indescribable reason as to why they have the need to commit this act on a consistent basis.
‘Some people overshoot the mark and become shopaholics,’ Kouri said.