'Tis The Season To Shop 'Til You Drop

Oh, for the good old days when people would stop Christmas shopping when they ran out of money.

What did Marie Antoinette, Mary Todd Lincoln, William Randolph Hearst, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Princess Diana all have in common? They all had episodes of excessive and often senseless spending that contributed to their financial downfall, personal problems, or even death (Marie Antoinette)

Oniomania is a mental health disorder related to the compulsive desire to shop.  This disorder is more commonly referred to as compulsive shopping, shopping addiction, shopaholism, compulsive buying, mall mania, or Sushma Syndrome.  Omniomania is not a rare, new, or designer disease. It is estimated that 6-10% of the US population are compulsive shoppers. The disorder starts in the late teens - early twenties and is chronic.  It is believed to be more common in women than men.

What is the difference between a “shopaholic” and a “collector”?  Gender.  In order of preference, most female compulsive shoppers buy clothes, shoes, jewelry, and makeup. Whereas most male “collectors” buy clothing, shoes, electronics, and hardware. It is important to remember that compulsive shoppers are not always just buying “things”.  There are plenty of compulsive over-spenders who splurge on events; splurging on dining out, vacations, theatre/concerts, hosting parties, beauty services, etc.  Anyone can be a compulsive shopper, even cops.

Compulsive shopping disorders are not as easy to spot as you might think.  Omniomania is a socially reinforced behavioral addiction. We are bombarded by advertising, telling us that buying will make us happy. Politicians encourage us to spend as a way to boost the economy. And we all want to have what those around us have. Consumerism has become a measure of our social value. 

Normal Shopping vs. Shopping Addiction

What is the difference between normal shopping, occasional splurges, and shopping addiction? In the United States and other developed countries, shopping is a major pastime.  Frequent shopping in and of itself does not support a diagnosis of a compulsive buying disorder. Normal buying can have a compulsive quality, particularly around special holidays or birthdays. Individuals who receive a significant pay raise, an inheritance or win a lottery may experience compulsive shopping sprees as well.  Additionally you can buy, after all, without shopping; or shop without buying.

One of the defining characteristics of any addiction is that when the activity (vice) clearly has a negative impact on other areas in a person’s life, he/she is unable to control or stop the activity (vice).  Alcoholics can’t stop drinking, drug addicts can’t stop using, compulsive gamblers keep on betting, over-eaters binge, etc.  Compulsive shoppers keep on spending.  It is estimated that 20+ million Americans can't control their urge to shop, even at the expense of their job, their marriage, their family and their finances.

So, Are You a Compulsive Shopper?

Answer often, sometimes, rarely, or never to each of the questions in this quiz developed by Olivia Mellan

  1. Do you buy things you want (not need), whether or not you can afford them at the moment?
  2. Do you have trouble saving money? If you have a little extra available to save or invest, do you tend to think of something you'd rather spend it on?
  3. Do you buy things to cheer yourself up or to reward yourself?
  4. Does more than a third of your income, not including rent or mortgage payments, go to pay bills?
  5. Do you juggle bill paying because you always seem to be living on the edge, financially?
  6. Do you tend to keep buying more of your favorite things even if you don't have a specific need for them?
  7. If you have to deny yourself or put off buying something you really want, do you feel intensely deprived, angry or upset?

If you answered often or sometimes to four or more questions, you're probably a compulsive spender, especially if you answered affirmatively to #7.

Characteristics of a Shopaholic    

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