By Theresa Shadrix
Star Staff Writer
Published: September 2, 2007
The bags are hidden behind clothes in the closet. The receipt was burned, destroying all evidence of the purchase. The credit card bill has been shredded. Such is the covert life of a shopaholic.
"I never really plan my shopping but I can go into Ace Hardware and find something," said Lila, who did not want to be identified.
Admitting that she wants to gain control of her spending habits, Lila said she is not proud of overspending and hiding purchases. "Once, I stashed 10 pairs of shoes that I bought at a Payless BOGO sale at a friend's house," she said with an awkward laugh. "We burned the boxes and then I slipped the shoes into the house."
According to a 2006 Stanford University School of Medicine study, 5.8 percent of people in the nation are compulsive shoppers.
The surprising result from the study was that women and men have similar habits in shopping, with six percent for women and 5.5 percent for men. But, the definition, treatment and causes of compulsive shopping as a disorder are still up for discussion.
In 2003, the American Psychiatric Association released a statement that it had no plans to include compulsive shopping as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, due for publication in 2010. A representative from the APA confirmed the 2003 statement is still in effect and it is too soon to tell what mental disorders will be included in the 2010 report because the task force has only recently been formed. Compulsive shopping is often classified as a symptom of other mental disorders, like obsessive-compulsive disorder.
One expert said it is the rush of buying that compels the shopper and the impulse should be a separate disorder.
"They are addicted to the purchase," said Terrence Shulman, founder of Shopaholics Anonymous and The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft and Spending, based in Detroit. "All addictions become secretive. You feel so out of control and a lot people have this façade. It is masterfully constructed."
A former lawyer turned licensed counselor, Shulman counsels people who have compulsive shopping and shoplifting addictions. Arrested twice for shoplifting, Shulman speaks from both professional and personal experience. He didn't even realize he had an addiction to shoplifting when, as a law student, he was caught trying to steal a cassette player in 1986.
"I was totally paralyzed," he said of the arrest.
But he didn't stop. The shoplifting continued and he was arrested the second time in 1990 at the age of 25. Depressed and suicidal, Shulman said he confessed his addiction to his parents and sought help in counseling.
He said it was in a counseling session one day when he realized shoplifting was addictive.
"My therapist through up his hands and said it was like (I was) addicted to this. It had all the hallmarks of an addictive behavior."
While careful to not place the blame of his behavior on anyone else, he said that his father was a compulsive shopper and he picked up a lot of habits from him.
"He wasn't a good money manager or saver. He was not the kind of guy who thought about the future."
Shulman said his parents divorced when he was 10 and although his father could not pay child support, he could spend money on other things.
"(Therapy) made me realize I was more like my dad, in that he was an alcoholic and compulsive."
When Shulman couldn't find a support group for compulsive shoppers or shoplifters, he started Shopaholics Anonymous 15 years ago this month.
Like Shulman, Lila said her father was a compulsive spender, but her mother was budget-conscious.
"I feel bad when I think of all I have wasted," Lila said. "We used to have savings and investments. It is a constant guilt."
She said her problem started when she married about 10 years ago.
"I was so used to getting everything that I wanted and then I had to follow a budget."
When her children were born and Lila was a stay-at-home mother, shopping was an outlet because it was exciting. "It's not that I was bored," she explains. "It's like an unconscious thing. At the end of the week, I am like, "I spent $300!""
Shulman said many people feel family members will judge them but admitting the problem is the first step.