Marc Kern (Addiction Expert, Director of Addiction Alternatives) gives expert video advice on: What is "shopping addiction"?; What causes shopping addiction?; Who becomes a shopping addict? and more...
What is "shopping addiction"?
Shopping addiction is nothing more than another manifestation of a process in which someone overengages in a particular activity to the exclusion of others to perhaps even the detriment of themselves and it manifests itself in the involvement of shopping, not too far away from gambling. The individual doesn't anticipate a reward like a gambler does with a slot machine but the idea that you shop. You own the prized object and there is an exhileration, an excitement, an optimism. Let's say you were blue before you went into the store or let's say you were sitting at home and watching TV and the shopping channel is on and you buy this thing and there's an excitement. That excitement, it feels so good inside and it becomes a central dominating force where you continually look to shopping to guide your actions and guide your day-to-day world to the exlusion of other more healthy adaptive ways of coping with uncomfortable feelings or difficult life circumstances.
What causes shopping addiction?
Shopping addiction is caused by, primarily, the fact that you can get a physiological perk from buying something which initially you want. Even down the road, people with shopping addictions find they feel a need to get that little perk, or burst of positive feelings. So shopping addiction, like other behavioral addictions and non-behavioral addictions such as alcohol or drugs, provide a biochemical change in the individual which elates them, that is desired, invites pleasure or removal of pain or despair, and it works. It's predictable. You specify the object you want, you give them the credit card, you obtain it, and there is this flush of energy. Actually brain activity occurs when you purchase something at the store or again on line. It is rewarding.
Who becomes a shopping addict?
Not everybody who shops becomes a shopping addict. There does seem to be a characteristic, or certain features about an individual who does become a shopping addict. Because shopping addiction goes to the extreme, where people are actually spending money they don't have, and actually go broke, or nearly broke, through shopping. I've worked with people where there is closets full of clothes that have never been worn, for example, with their tags still on the clothes. The shopping wasn't about obtaining or wearing these particular items, but it was about the purchasing. So who becomes a shopping addict? Probably somebody who's looking for the big thrill, at least initially, who has the financial ability to bring about a positive experience through purchasing. Sometimes it's someone who is a loner sitting around a TV and there are very few sort of resources to make them feel good so they continually buy via the television or the internet or something like that. And then there's others who have a large amount of money and get involved in shopping as not more than just the purchasing; they see it as an activity. Shopping addiction can also be used simply as getting out of the house. I'm involved with people in the world and there's a whole sort of sequence and ritual involved with the activity of getting the object and purchasing it.
What compels a shopping addict to buy?
It is a compellingness, it's about the feeling, and has nothing to do with the object. It has nothing to do with the dress, or the fur or the tea pot or anything similar. It has to do with I am feeling something I don't want to feel and this purchase is going to temporarily make me not feel it, and perhaps feel something quite different; maybe powerful or something like that. People look at shopping addicts and look at it in terms of their budget and say how can she go over, how can they go and buy something when their budget doesn't seem to offer. The budget is not generally looked at, it is not about the exchange of money as we go and purchase something. It is a drug , the shopping object can make me feel good inside. It is not about anything else other than this change and affect of experience through this activity.
Won't a shopper stop when they've bought everything they need?
Generally speaking, a compulsive shopper will not stop when they have everything they need. It really has nothing to do with need. They have more than enough clothes to wear, and they have enough objects within the house. Shopping addicton is all about just purchasing and bringing about that affective experience. So they could actually have two similar outfits or similar objects in the house, because it's not about the possession, the utility of the object or the clothing. Shopping addiction is about going out and engaging in this activity to bring about a feeling state that is more desirous than the one that preceded it.
When does compulsive shopping usually manifest itself?
Compulsive shopping starts generally in your teens and goes into early adulthood, and for some it goes well into late adulthood. It is dependent on, of course, at least initially, the availability of finances. If you have no access to money, chances are you're not going to be a, shopaholic. You must have had experiences getting that positive feeling when you purchase. Now, mom or dad can take you out when you're young and, and they could buy something for you and you could have the foundation for later compulsive shopping. But generally speaking, it, it has to be available and there has to be sort of role models that sort of endorse this sort of method of making yourself feel good and see it as a positive characteristic for the most part, at least in the early stages.
What is the treatment for shopping addiction?
The basic features of a learning theory, or a cognitive-behavioral approach: teaching someone how to think differently about the purchases, how to bring about extinction where you don't get that reward when you buy something, and you learn how to relax yourself in the obtaining of the item.
What happens if compulsive spending is not treated?
Compulsive spending, generally, is not treated. It is more often than not just something that kind of ebbs and flows during the course of someone's entire life. There may be periods of time where the compulsive spending does reach proportions we would call an addiction, only to find that five or ten years later it has reasonably or totally subsided.