As you sign for the fifth package of the week, the courier smiles at you. “Shopping again, love?” You nod dutifully, not wanting to admit that the box belongs to your husband…they all do.
We all joke about being shopaholics, especially after a splurge in the Zara sale, but how do you deal with a true shopping addict? And what if that addict was your husband, father or brother?
A study from the American Journal of Psychiatry found that the percentage of women shopaholics was only marginally larger than that of male shopaholics. Out of 2,513 people that they surveyed, 6% of women were diagnosed as compulsive shoppers compared to 5.5% of men. It has been estimated that in Britain, there are 4 million women and 3 million men that suffer with the condition named ‘Oniomania’ by professionals.
“Little things tend to show up at our house in packages from all over the world, every few days,” says Alice Starling*, whose father suffers from Oniomania, “We have a new car or bike every few months I’d say. It does keep him happy. If my dad was working this much and wasn’t able to spend, he would end up depressed, I think.”
Alice’s fathers’ spending has caused her family to fall into debt. Her grandparents have had to move into the family home so that their annex can be rented out to gain an extra income. “All our rooms have been changed and our living room has been cut in half to create an extra room. It’s tough. But it’s doable. That’s the biggest effect dads spending has had on us,” she says.
Traditionally, men have not been recognised as being afflicted with Oniomania (Compulsive Buying). This is because most of the previous surveys have been answered by women. As shopping is viewed as a female pastime, the idea of male compulsive shopping has been less explored. However, due to recent findings it seems that the ratio of male to female sufferers is almost equal. But why, and how, are men becoming increasingly addicted to shopping?
Leading Psychologist, April Benson Ph.D, is the author of ‘I Shop Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self.’ She explains that: “The ease of shopping on the Internet, along with the anonymity that it provides, is largely responsible for more men becoming addicted to shopping.” With Internet retail sales reaching £29 billion in 2012, it has become easier than ever for men to shop anonymously on laptops, smartphones and tablets. These male shopaholics are more likely to spend out on gadgets, technology, CDs, tools and books.
Alice’s father buys a number of cars and motorbikes. “And property, he’s invested in a few flats and houses, including a few abroad,” she adds, “He buys lots of little things too, car parts, motorbike parts, jackets, jumpers, jeans, junk food, novelty items like a water buffalo skull we had up in our living room for a while, a life size ‘fester’ [butler] that talks and moves.”
A shopaholic must identify their shopping trigger, be it stress at work or a lack of self confidence, before they can be on a road to recovery. Replacing shopping with something healthier can be useful, as can attending cognitive behavioural therapy sessions. “They need to understand what it is they’re really shopping for and find a way to get that with life enhancing activities rather than life-eroding behaviours,” explains April Benson, “We all need to remember that we can never get enough of what we don’t really need.”
*Name changed at request of interviewee