1: a frequent shopper,
especially one who is unable to control his or her spending.
A while ago I focused on The Cheapskate,
the opposite of a shopaholic. I wanted to call this month’s article
“The Spendthrift,” but a cursory Google search showed that most people
do not understand spendthrift is synonymous with wastrel
or big spender.
Not wanting to confuse anyone, I settled on the colloquial and informal
stereotype: shopaholic, which, thanks to author Sophie Kinsella, most
everyone is familiar with.
Everyone has to shop. Human
necessities include toilet paper, toothpaste, and food. For some
people, shopping is perfunctory: making lists, checking off items,
contemplating the merits of off-brand versus brand name or organic
versus pesticide-laden. These are normal aspects of shopping by normal
Then there is the shopping by
the shopaholic, an outing to the store—and I do mean any store—is an
event, an experience. One to be savored, lengthened, enjoyed. Price and
time isn’t as much a consideration as feelings and desire.
we get started, a word of caution: It’s a mistake to equate all
shopaholics with Kinsella’s quirky heroine, who had a taste only for
designer imports she did not need and could not afford. “Did not need
and could not afford” is key, not “designer imports.” Shopaholics like
to spend money, period, whether at a high-end boutique or a consignment
shop. Regardless of their budgets, they all suffer the similar
consequences of overspending that Becky Bloomwood does.
spend an inordinate amount of time preoccupied with shopping, be it
online or through catalogs or in malls. They use one credit card to pay
off another, and maybe take on additional jobs to pay them off. They
can have unused products, bought in bulk, scattered around their houses
or squirreled away from their friends and families in attempts to hide
the purchases and possibly to avoid skirmishes with loved ones about
their buying habits.
What makes these folks do
2000 study by British researcher Helga Dittmar found that people
purchase things for three reasons: usefulness, improving their moods,
or enhancing their self-images. However, compulsive shoppers are
significantly more likely to buy things because of mood improvement and
self-image improvement features promised by a product than were
Some researchers have gone so
as to determine that dopamine, the same neurochemical released during
sex and drug use, is also released during shopping. This effect is
pleasurable, and, of course, people want to recreate pleasurable
experiences as often as possible. The danger is when the person comes
back to earth, realizes his or her wallet is lighter, and then often
feels worse than before the shopping event.
There is some debate in the
clinical world about where shopaholics should fall in the current
edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
called the DSM-5 for short. Is it an impulse-control disorder, like
kleptomania? Should it be classified under non-substance addiction
disorders, like gambling or pornography? Or is it more of an anxiety
disorder compelled by obsessions and the compulsive need to shop to
make them go away? Or possibly a symptom of a mood disorder?
Since there is no consensus, and
each disorder provides
shopaholics with a different motive for their behavior, authors who
have an understanding about these particular disorders can be more
creative with breaking this stereotype. Following are a three examples
to hopefully get your creative juices flowing.
This is the shopaholic who needs to spend money when she’s depleted
emotionally. Most people are familiar with retail therapy, but the Blue
Buyer takes it to a new level. It’s not about acquiring things or
keeping up a certain image. It’s more about managing negative emotional
states like depression, frustration, jealousy, embarrassment, or anger.
A twist on this could be to have your character head for the mall only
when a certain subject comes up that she absolutely has to avoid at all
costs because of the difficult feelings it brings up. She might decide
to go shopping if she even has a hint that this subject might come up.
Sometimes, compulsive shopping can be a result of feeling inferior or
insecure. These individuals might ruminate over their perceived
inadequacies and see shopping as their ticket to popularity, respect,
importance, success, or leaving a legacy. Control-Freak Consumers might
focus on buying things that connect them to something they are
personally interested in, or to a phase in their past, or to remind
them of their ideals or goals. Or their social aspirations require the
purchases to help them fit in or get closer to real or imagined
audiences or significant others (Dyl and Wapner, 1996).
The Powerless Purchaser
In some severe cases, the shopaholic is obsessed with and addicted to
shopping. This is when the term shopaholic might be
most fitting, as it’s fashioned after alcoholic or workaholic.
These people get an addictive high from shopping that’s so pleasurable,
they want to seek it out again and again. They are literally powerless
over their purchasing.
The Powerless Purchaser is
consumed with an inordinate
amount of thoughts about shopping. They might shop on their cell phones
at work, even lose their jobs due to taking too long lunches (where
they shopped) or consistently arriving late (because they were
shopping). These are the types to keep tags on merchandise to return
later and squirrel bags away from loved ones to avoid conflict, just as
an addict would try to hide his beer breath with gum or a smoker who
tries to cover her tobacco smell with body spray or perfume. It could
be interesting to explore this type character as being a part of
Debtors Anonymous, a real program based on the 12-step literature of