Steinberg adds that other women use spending money as a way to get back at their husbands. It’s a way of exercising power and control and having an effect, she says. She also finds that about 60 percent of the members in her group have an eating disorder. “They’re seeing the outside world as the way to bring them gratification,” Steinberg said.
Some people don’t realize that they’re using shopping as other people use food, alcohol or drugs.
“It’s a societal and cultural issue that’s not taken seriously or seen as an issue. ‘Shop ’til you drop’ is considered a cool thing to do,” Pollak said.
And while compulsive shopping can intensify during the holidays, it’s a problem that is present throughout the year.
Are You Out of Control?
Pollak, Horvath and Steinberg say to look for the following signs to determine if you have a shopping problem:
Continuously buying things that aren’t needed.
Buying things you can’t afford.
Incurring significant debt and other financial problems because of shopping.
Having a sense of exhilaration during shopping; feeling guilty after shopping.
Dealing with anger from family members about the purchasing and debt incurred.
Not feeling right when not shopping.
Having problems with relationships over shopping.
Hiding purchases or debts.
Another Look at the Disorder
Pollak believes that shopping disorders appear to fall within the impulsive/compulsive spectrum. That is, if it’s an impulsive behavior, a person buys something very quickly, often without thinking, to get rid of or avoid some bad feeling. Others may be burdened with obsessive-compulsive pulls, which are “overwhelming, intrusive urges that they try to fight off and eventually give into,” Pollak said.
Making the Decision to Change
In his experience, Pollak sees the greatest success in overcoming shopping disorders in patients who take responsibility. “They’re not blaming others for their behavior or denying that they have a problem.”
All addictive behaviors stop, according to Horvath, when the person comes to realize that the activity just isn’t worth the agony it causes. “It’s a decision. At some point, you just say ‘enough!'”