20 Million Americans May Be Compulsive Shoppers

By Paul Gaita 04/13/15

Researchers found that compulsive buying has similar impulses to drug and alcohol addiction.

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New research indicates that nearly 7% of American consumers, or about 20 million individuals, may have some kind of addictive relationship with shopping.

The study, conducted by researchers from Hannover Medical School in Germany and published in the American Journal on Addictions, culled literature and material concerning issues of impulsive or addictive buying from a variety of sources published between 1994 and 2013. Their findings, supported by representative surveys, indicated that an estimated 6% to 7% of adults display some form of “compulsive buying,” with numbers in both America and Europe rising sharply over the last two decades.

The researchers defined the behavior as a preoccupation with buying and shopping, marked by frequent buying episodes or overpowering urges to purchase items that are underscored by feelings of senselessness and lack of power. Similar research conducted at Indiana University draws a direct correlation between these urges and the search for a rush or high by drug or alcohol addicts, as well as “blackout” episodes, in which the buyer does not recall making purchases that is similar to alcohol-related blackouts.

Psychology and addiction professionals credit online shopping, which provides 24-hour access to an unlimited array of goods, with increased numbers of compulsive buyers. Terrance Shulman, founder of The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending and Hoarding, said “The Internet is a wonderful thing, but it can be like crack cocaine for people with an addictive personality. There’s an immediacy that can be a slippery slope.”

He notes that therapy and support groups can provide some immediate assistance to the problem, but also adds that educating entire families—not just the compulsive buyer—on the issue will provide a greater degree of control. “Shopaholics really benefit from an education, and learning what’s leading to this behavior,” he said. “Cutting up your credit cards isn’t going to do it.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.