Turns out 1 in 20 of us -- women and men alike -- can't control the urge to spend. Learn what drives this destructive behavior.
Is your closet overflowing with never-worn clothing, the price tags still waving in the breeze? Is your attic bulging with boxes and boxes of shoes that have never touched pavement? Do you buy new makeup weekly or compact discs by the fistful?
You might be a shopaholic.
Studies estimate that as many as 17 million Americans, better than one in 20 of us, can't control our urge to shop, even at the expense of our job, our marriage, our family and our finances.
In the land of conspicuous consumption, compulsive shopping is the smiled-upon addiction, the butt of countless sitcoms and Sunday comics, one of the few disorders that it's still OK to laugh at. Shop 'til you drop. The one who dies with the most toys wins. Heck, President Bush even called it patriotic to splurge. Where's the harm?
Manhattan psychologist April Benson, author of "I Shop Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self," has seen firsthand how destructive compulsive shopping can be.
"One patient of mine got fired because she was compulsively shopping on the Internet all day. There are other people who neglect their children and park them in the mall constantly because that is what they need to feed their habit. Lots of marriages break up over compulsive buying. In fact, we don't call it compulsive buying unless there is some significant impairment in some aspect of your life."
Not only is compulsive shopping tacitly condoned by our materialistic society, it is just as widely misunderstood.
For starters, according to Donald Black, M.D., a University of Iowa psychiatry professor who specializes in obsessive-compulsive disorder, compulsive shopping isn't a true compulsion at all, but instead an impulse control disorder.
"A compulsion is a behavior that is produced to counteract an upsetting thought; for example, I'm contaminated or dirty, therefore I will deal with that anxiety by washing my hands more," he says.
"There is no upsetting thought prompting compulsive shopping. It is a very pleasurable impulse, and people act on those impulses."
"Frankly, there is so little research done that I'm not sure you can talk about success rate," Black admits. "Very few people are studying this or writing about it. There are no standards for treatment, so there are no good definitions of what constitutes recovery. Is their buying down to your level or my level? Or should they abstain from shopping like they tell alcoholics? You can't do that realistically. Maybe if you go shopping, at least have someone with you so you don't go overboard."
Have you ever hidden purchases from your spouse?