Ask The Doctor

Shopping Addiction Has Serious Effects

Dear Dr. Garner,

I’m very concerned about my sister. She has always loved to shop but recently, it seems to have become an obsession for her.
At first, the family teased her about it. Now it is becoming serious as she has run up large credit card bills, and has unopened purchases throughout the house.  

When we confront her, she goes on the defensive. Is there such a thing as being addicted to shopping, and if so, is there anything we can do?

I really hope you can help.
Shopaholic Sister in

Dear Sister,

I am very sorry for your problem. There most definitely is a disorder known as shopping addiction. It has a fancy scientific name, “oniomania.”

People with this condition shop on impulse, usually to cope with a difficult situation such as depression.  With shopping addiction, the people afflicted are preoccupied with thoughts such as spending, buying, returning, and purchasing. Interpersonal problems often arise as a result of the addiction.  They may start fighting with their spouse, children, or other family members.  They may miss work or neglect obligations.

The cause may be due to an emptiness inside that needs to be filled, or a need for a way to calm down.  They think shopping is going to make them feel better, and unfortunately advertising reinforces this

This addiction is serious, similar to alcohol addiction. A chemical imbalance occurs in the same part of the brain as in other addictions. It is often difficult to figure out who is addicted and who merely goes overboard on occasional spending. The estimates are that about 7% of the U.S. population has this addiction

Below is a test that can help determine if one is truly shopping addicted. How would you answer these?

• Do you take off for the stores when you’ve experienced a setback or    disappointment, or when you feel angry, or scared?
• Are your spending habits disturbing to you, and have they created chaos in your life?
• Have your shopping habits created conflicts between you and close family members?
• Do you buy items with your credit cards that you wouldn’t buy if you had to pay cash?
• Do you feel lost without your credit cards?
• Do you spend a lot of time juggling accounts and bills to accommodate your shopping debts?
• Do you think about money excessively?
• When you shop, do you get a rush of euphoria mixed with anxiety?
• When you return home after shopping, do you feel guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed?
• Do you have unopened purchases throughout the house?
• Do you become defensive when asked about your shopping habits by family members?
• Do you buy things you don’t need?

If you answered yes to four or more of the above, you may be shopping addicted.

Contrary to popular belief, men and women actually are at equal risk of becoming shopping addicted.

I would like to stress that being addicted to shopping is a serious matter.  It can break up families, and interfere with one’s life, job and home.  There are support groups available for people addicted to shopping. In addition, psychological counseling is often helpful.  There are even medications, some of which work directly on the portion of the brain involved in the addiction.

Lacking control of one’s impulse to spend is similar to not being able to control one’s impulse to drink alcohol.  The same type of chemical surge occurs in the brain.

The repercussions are just as serious, and in both cases you may end up with no money, ruined relationships, and facing criminal charges.

I urge you to have your sister visit her family doctor for guidance and for direction as to the next step.[hr]
Dr. Steven Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on The NET, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Channel 97 Time Warner and Channel 30 Cablevision.

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