7 Signs You Might Be a Shopaholic, According to Science

In some cases, retail therapy is no laughing matter.

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"Shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist.""Keep calm and go shopping.""I could give up shopping, but I'm not a quitter."

The cutesy shopping sayings go on and on and on. But there's a darker, more serious side to retail therapy. Shopping addiction is neither new nor uncommon: About 6 percent of the American population – almost 20 million people – are affected by compulsive buying disorder or compulsive shopping disorder. But it's been difficult to pin down what makes someone a shopping addict rather than just an overzealous consumer – until now.

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Enter the Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale, a new way to measure shopping addiction, which was created by researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway. The researchers were also able to pinpoint who is most likely to be a shopaholic.

Unsurprisingly, women are more likely to be addicted to shopping. But wait! It's not just women: According to the study published in Frontiers in Psychology, extroverted and neurotic (defined as "anxious, depressive and self-conscious") people have a higher risk of developing shopping addiction, too.

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"It's still a little controversial because some people will think, 'Come on, you're labeling everything as an addiction. Aren't you just a superficial person or aren't you just a poor money manager?'" says Terrence Shulman, MSW, founder and director of The Shulman Center, which provides treatment for compulsive stealing, spending and hoarding disorders. "But yes, it's a big problem."

Shulman adds that there are usually underlying issues behind someone's ongoing need to shop 'till they drop. "The hallmark of the addiction is often driven by what we call core issues," he explains. "For instance, things that might have happened earlier in our lives that we're not dealing with, and shopping is our way of distracting ourselves or numbing the pain and escaping."

The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale: Are You a Shopaholic?

The brand-new Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale has seven basic criteria to identify shopping addiction. Answer the seven statements below using the following scale: (0) Completely disagree, (1) Disagree, (2) Neither disagree nor agree, (3) Agree, and (4) Completely agree:

1. You think about shopping/buying things all the time.2. You shop/buy things in order to change your mood.3. You shop/buy so much that it negatively affects your daily obligations (e.g., school and work).4. You feel you have to shop/buy more and more to obtain the same satisfaction as before.5. You have decided to shop/buy less, but have not been able to do so.6. You feel bad if you for some reason are prevented from shopping/buying things.7. You shop/buy so much that it has impaired your well-being.

Scoring is simple: Answering "agree" or "completely agree" on at least four of the statements suggests you have a shopping addiction.

Other Signs of Shopping Addiction

Shulman says there are other signs of shopping addiction he looks for, including how long and how often someone has been showing addictive shopping behavior "It can take a lot of your time and energy to shop, so you may be neglecting your relationships, your work and your hobbies," he says. "And I'd say about 90 percent of the time, there's some aspect of deception, hiding or secrecy," which could include lying about your spending habits, opening a secret credit card account or getting a secret PO Box where packages can be delivered.

Finally, Shulman suggests taking an honest assessment of the fallout from your actions. "The main thing we look at are the negative consequences and if the person continues to engage in this behavior," he explains. "Not all shopaholics create economic problems, but the great majority are going to have some financial stress, like they're going to have trouble paying the bills, be late in payments and find themselves in debt. And… the person with the shopping issue is usually reluctant to admit or to get help, which results in power and control issues."

If you are one of the millions who has the compulsive urge to shop and spend, Shulman points out that you're not alone. "It's actually a societal problem," he says. "Even when you look at our country — we are $19 trillion in debt. We're having difficulties individually and collectively keeping within the perimeters and not spending more than we have. It has become a systemic and global phenomenon."

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