Shopping Addiction Is Real -- and It's Not Just Women

Buzz Bissinger  NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 02: Buzz Bissinger attends a dinner and discussion hosted by The Norman Mailer Center at The Norman Mailer House on June 2, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for The Norman Mailer Center)
Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for The Norman Mailer Center

By Megan Willett

Shopping addiction is in the national spotlight this week after "Friday Night Lights" author Buzz Bissinger revealed in an article for GQ that he had spent $638,412 on designer clothes in three years.

Some people are skeptical about the reality of over-spending addictions, but they are very real, and can ruin a person's finances, relationships, and life.

We got in touch with Terrence Shulman, the founder and director of The Shulman Center in Detroit, which treats compulsive theft, shopping, and hoarding, to find out more about the addiction.

Here's what he had to say about "shopaholism." Answers have been edited for clarity.

BUSINESS INSIDER: Is there a certain type of person who is inclined to become a shopaholic?

TERRENCE SHULMAN: I would say we need more research on that. But it affects men and women roughly equally. It also affects young people, because they're getting access to credit cards at an earlier age. And kids want expensive gadgets: They want a new phone every year or a new video game every month. We also know it affects people who are well-to-do, are gainfully employed, and have a decent income just the same as people who are barely scraping by. So it really cuts across all categories.

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BI: How do shopaholics behave, and does the addiction affect men and women differently?

TS: There are different patterns. They may shop for themselves, or for other people to gain love or approval. Some people have to get bargains, while others need a high-end item to feel good, and still others need something that directly improves their self-image or their image in the eyes of others -- for instance, clothing. There are also people who buy and return items who we call return-aholics or bulimic shoppers.

Shopping addictions affect women a little more than men, but men are quickly catching up. Men don't tend to over-shop, but over-spend: On a car, on a vacation, on sporting events, or on a concert. They typically go for larger purchases. Women can certainly do that too, but I've found women are a little more cautious about large purchases, but tend to do more continual shopping than men.

BI: How many people suffer from shopping addictions?

TS: There was a landmark study done at Stanford in 2006 where they estimated about 6 percent of the population, and I think that's conservative. Then a few years later in 2008, the University of Virginia did a study that estimated it was closer to 9 percent. I would say about 10 percent of people have a compulsive buying or shopping problem.

BI: What causes people to over-shop?

TS: Two of the main things I see are over-indulgence and deprivation, either material or emotional. Traumatic events can also trigger the addiction since they could be going through life with feelings of pain, longing, emptiness, loss, and they find they feel better when they shop.

Then there's the group of people who were over-indulged and spoiled. They get used to having whatever they want when they want it, and they continue that pattern into adulthood.

BI: What is treatment like for shopaholics?

TS: I do a lot of therapy, sometimes via phone or Skype to make it convenient for people. And we try to get to the root of the problem. I also am a big fan of people being engaged in a support group. There's a Debtor's Anonymous group in each major city that you can find at, and even those who aren't necessarily in debt can find help there.

I also really encourage people to read books about this to educate themselves and engage their family, friends, and partners who don't understand it -- they don't get why the person can't just stop shopping, but it's easier said than done.

They also need to know what recovery looks like -- you can't expect the person to never shop again, but they need to curtail credit card usage, internet usage, get mailing lists, learn their triggers, create a budget or spending plan, and figure out what other activities they can channel that energy into. There's a lot of prompts in society to "BUY BUY BUY!" and so it's something most people will have to monitor for the rest of their lives.

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