The word “shopaholic” gets thrown around a lot, but for about 6% of Americans causal retail therapy has morphed into a compulsive, destructive habit.
As we are bombarded by advertising on television, online and on billboards alongside the road, “omniomania”—the medical term for compulsive spending, literally meaning “for sale insanity”—is “perhaps the most socially reinforced of the behavioral addictions,” writes Elizabeth Hartney, a psychologist in the field of addictions and concurrent disorders.
“Shopping addiction is not a new disorder. It was recognized as far back as the early nineteenth century, and was cited as a psychiatric disorder in the early 20th century,” she writes.
There is some controversy about this malady in psychiatric circles: some see it less as a physical addiction, as present in drug and alcohol abuse, and rather as a behavioral condition like obsessive-compulsive disorder. Regardless, health experts have long recognized the disease.
So are you or someone you love a real shopaholic? Here’s a detailed checklist culled from Debtors Anonymous that may signal compulsive shopping habits.
- Incur unsecured debt to make a purchase?
- Go to stores without knowing what funds are available to pay for the purchase?
- Make major purchases without researching comparative features and prices?
- Make major purchases without considering the long-term financial impact?
- Shop as one of your recreational activities?
- Own multiple numbers of the same thing?
- Have a closet full of unworn clothing, shelves of unread books, a storage space filled with unused tools, unused hobby equipment or other unused items?
- Rationalize your purchases because you got it used or on sale?
- Buy things for other people when you can’t rationalize buying them for yourself?
- Spend money to please or impress other people?
- Conceal purchases?
- Feel regret, remorse, guilt or shame after a purchase?
- Feel elated after a purchase?
- Feel let down after a shopping trip has ended?
- Shop to cheer yourself up or calm yourself down?
- Lack money to pay for basics after purchasing less-essential items?
- Have a spouse, parent or child who criticizes, or worries about, your spending?
- Neglect basic responsibilities because of time spent shopping?
- Have you stolen items whether or not you had the money to buy them?
- Have you lost a relationship or job because of your spending?
If you answered yes to three or more of these signs, you may be a compulsive spender.
Illustration by Brian Yee.