"When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping." For seasoned mall hounds, that's more than a clever bumper sticker—it's a statement of purpose, a recipe for fun.
But for an unfortunate few, shopping is less a joy than an addiction. They are consumers out of control, frequently buying items they don't need—and may not even remove from the packaging. Researchers are beginning to understand who compulsive buyers are—and why they shop 'til they drop.
In many respects, shopaholics are a lot like people with eating disorders. About 90 percent are female, says Ronald Faber, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota. They are more likely to have anxiety disorders and low self-esteem than normal shoppers. They are also more impulsive than average and tend to be perfectionists.
Intriguingly, many compulsive buyers experience heightened sensations—colors and textures are more intense during a buying binge—and some claim to reach extreme levels of focus and concentration while perusing store shelves. A few liken the experience to a drug trip; others find their shopping trips sexually stimulating.
Faber believes that the problem arises from a convergence of psychological, social and biological factors.