“It’s a compulsive disorder. A loop in their brain… ”
Checking your credit card balance post-holidays, it may be the right moment to ask, “Am I a shopping addict?”
An article on Fusion can help you take stock of your behavior to find out. Like a quick breast exam of the brain, it takes you through two steps of diagnosis by asking you if you’re an impulsive shopper—those who buy on the spot—or a compulsive shopper—those who are more obsessed with the need, anticipation, and comedown from a purchase—which is more likely to tend toward addiction.
But what causes these compulsions is a little more complicated. Research on the brain chemistry of shoppers indicates that when a shopper is stimulated by discovering something new (such as a juicy Michael Kors handbag or an Etsy amber bracelet), the brain releases dopamine and serotonin.
“It’s a compulsive disorder,” says Marianne Gillow, a New York City-based psychiatrist who often deals with shopping addicts. “A loop in their brain that keeps going off. A temporary high, and then you crash.”
Like other compulsions, shopping addiction can be triggered for a number of reasons. “[Some] patients of mine forge a relationship with shopkeepers because they are lonely,” Gillow says. “Others have a perversion for the hunter/gatherer thing when they shop; they want to walk out with a piece of mammoth in their teeth.” And then there are people she calls “high novelty seekers,” who are shopping to elevate their mood because they are in a low pleasurable state all the time. “Basically if you’re like this, you’re a sociopath.”
Shopping as an addiction is a new disease, arising in part because shopping has become omnipresent. While its ramifications are still being explored, classifications for eating disorders—bingeing and purging, for example—are used by mental health professionals to classify shopping addicts.
“There does need to be an effort of cultural awareness about how we buy things,” Gillow says. “It’s a good sign that fast food companies are trying to offer healthier options. That could be applied to shopping too. You have to eat to live, and you have to shop to live.”
The article also features this informative video on addiction: