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Dangerous habits

October 12, 2012
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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As online shopping and 24-hour television shopping continue to rise, the number of compulsive shoppers is also increasing.  A statistic from The University of Richmond highlights this trend by saying, “15% of Internet shoppers are compulsive shoppers.”  Terrence Daryl Shulman, founder and director of The Shulman Center, describes compulsive shoppers as people who were at some point either “trying to fill an inner void; excitement seeking or approval seeking; perfectionist; or materially deprived or materially overindulged.” For this reason, he says that parents need to be especially careful of depriving or spoiling their children. 

Compulsive shoppers do not always act out on their compulsions for the same reason.  According to Shulman, these are the different subtypes of overshoppers/overspenders:

·        Compulsive: people in this category shop to become distracted from their feelings

·        Trophy: this type of compulsive shopper works to find the perfect accessory for outfits, high class items, etc.

·        Image: these people will be found picking up the tab, buying expensive cars, etc.  They want to portray the image of having a lot of money.

·        Bargain: people in this group will buy stuff that they don’t need simply because it is a good deal.  They are constantly out hunting for deals.

·        Co-dependent: these people want to gain love and approval.

·        Binge-bulimic: simply put, these shoppers are on a constant cycle of  “buy and return”

·        Collector: this group wants to have sets of objects or different colors of the same style of clothing

A common misconception with this compulsive behavior may be that women are the ones who overshop and overspend.  However, according to a 2006 Stanford study, “men and women compulsively shop/spend about equally.”

“Not all shopaholics are hoarders, and not all hoarders are shopaholics,” says Shulman.  Although, sometimes they do tend to overlap.  Hoarders are people that are described to have “an extreme difficulty getting rid of things,” he explains.  These “things” he says, could be something expensive or it could be something as simple as a scrap of paper.  According the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “Personal consumption expenditures and storage rentals have increased 20% since 1980.”

Shulman says that people hoard for a variety of reasons including:

·        Genetics, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), anxiety, depression,

·        They feel a high from accumulating/a pain for discarding,  

·        Reaction to trauma or loss

·        Reaction to abuse or neglect

·        Keeping relationships, intimacy, hurt

·        Revisiting/holding onto fond memories

·        Control over little things because they don’t have control over the big things in their lives

·        Difficulty making decisions

To determine the severity of clutter and hoarding potential, the National Study Group of Chronic Disorganizaiton (NSGCD) has come up with four specific categories:

·        Structure and zoning;

·        Pets and rodents;

·        Household functions; and

·        Sanitation and cleanliness.

While the demographics of hoarders can vary, he did mention that there is a high prevalence among adoptees. Like most addictions, there are support groups out there to help people with these issues.  Groups such as Hoarders Anonymous and Clutterers Anonymous can prove to be effective if a person is seeking help.  Shulman said that in order for a hoarder to understand that what they’re doing needs to stop, usually a negative consequence has to occur. 

Other ways to help hoarders include: educating families, teaching accountability, educating the hoarders, peer support, and medication.  He also said that an important aspect when working with someone who may be a hoarder is to go look at their house.  If the client is not in an accessible distance to the counselor, Shulman says other options include Skyping with them or having them send photos.  It’s important for the counselor to understand the extent to what they’re working with.

Shulman spoke to a group of counselors and other addiction professionals at the 2012 National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) in Orlando, Fla.