This post was originally published on November 2, 2015.
“For the first time ever researchers have developed a scale, based on ‘core addiction elements’ used for diagnosing other addictions,” reported British multinational communication company BT.
Let Me Get This Straight
I think what this article is claiming is that for the first time in the history of scientific research, an actual numeric scale has been developed to measure the level of addiction to things other than alcohol and drugs—things that have, perhaps, been less researched and openly discussed—that aren’t landing you in rehab, but continue to make your life unhappy. The diagnostics are in the form of seven questions to which you are instructed to answer on a scale of zero to four (where zero is completely disagree and four is completely agree).
This is great news! Although treating process addictions like shopping and gambling has been an active part of the 12-step community for years, it’s always comforting to know that science is doing its part to catch up. And I don’t mean that sarcastically, not really. Having the insight, willingness and courage to admit you have a problem with something less understood than substance abuse (that can be just as destructive) and seeking help isn’t easy. While it’s fantastic there are places people can go to deal with these issues, it always helps to not also have to deal with skepticism of friends and family. A scale in which to measure ones own powerlessness will certainly help with being more confident we are on the right track.
Not So Fast There, Big Spender
However, after seeing the seven questions—scripted here to focus on shopping addiction—I now feel slightly less confident about the accuracy of this method of diagnosis and here’s why: unlike AA‘s 20 questions, which determine whether you are an alcoholic or not, these statements, not only deal only in real time (you think, you shop, you feel) as opposed to looking at the behavior on a spectrum (you have thought, you have shopped, you have felt), allowing space for the behavior to be periodic, but it they also seem a little broad.
1) You think about shopping/buying things all the time.
It’s true; if your answer is “yes” to this question then that is a somewhat bulletproof indication of trouble. But what if you are like me and have gone though some seriously disturbing phases on Amazon but you are totally over it for now? Since I know how these things work, I am sure that obsession will return again, which is why I wish the statement covered past behavior as well.
2) You shop/buy things in order to change your mood.
I hate to be the one to say this but isn’t this called being a girl? Don’t get me wrong, I know a handful of women who don’t enjoy shopping—for clothes and make-up at least—but take them to Living Spaces, Bed Bath and Beyond or even Home Depot and they light up like a slot machine.
Interestingly enough, the lead author on the research at the University of Bergen, Dr. Cecilie Schou Andreassen, said that women, starting at adolescence, were more likely to show traits of having a shopping addiction. I could have told you that!
3) You shop/buy so much that it negatively affects your daily obligations (school/work).
Easy there, partner. This reminds me a whole heck of a lot of “have you missed days of work or school because of drinking?” (20 questions) And it begs the reaction, who hasn’t? Unless you are a deer hunter or maybe a professional marathon runner, chances are you have taken a break at work to scour the Internet for some object of your affection. Maybe you didn’t buy it, I hear Chinese Tiger teeth can get pretty expensive, but it doesn’t change the fact that you have stolen time from your employer to obsess about an item you want to acquire. Is that not just as bad?
4) You feel you have to shop/buy more and more to obtain the same satisfaction as before.
This would be awfully insightful for someone who honestly believes that missing a 50% off sale at Forever 21 is a capital crime. I know there have been times in my life when my shopping habits where spiraling out of control: buying things and immediately returning them, buying things I got home and realized I didn’t need or even want, buying things I couldn’t afford or in a quantity I couldn’t afford yet couldn’t bring myself to return—but I have never been self aware enough at Nordstrom’s to understand that this sixteenth pair of $22 Hanky Panky underwear just isn’t giving me the same za za zoo as the first or second.
5) You have decided to shop/buy less, but have not been able to do so.
Ahhh! So confusing! Haven’t you ever cut up your credit card only to have your boyfriend’s wife slash your tires? Sh*t happens, people. Sometimes best laid plans are just that. Can I get a witness?
6) You feel bad if for some reason you are prevented from shopping/buying things.
See question four. Yes, of course, there are few things more upsetting then being denied access to the mall the day after Christmas. But that doesn’t make me a shopping addict, it just makes me an American—right?
7) You shop/buy so much that it has impaired your well-being.
Allow me to put the kibosh on this one right now. Not only has over spending not impaired my well-being (unless you consider mounting credit card debt having anything to do with “well-being”), it has greatly improved it. Sure, if you are spending Discover’s hard-earned cash on ice cream and hookers then I can see how this question would make sense. But if you are racking up a balance from of manicures, pedicures, spa days, juice cleanses and over-priced yoga classes then I might say that the cost of your well-being is beyond your means but not certainly not impairing it.
While I am not convinced I can diagnose myself as a shopping addict in this way, I should note that research also showed that extroverts and those who are neurotic—anxious, depressive and self-conscious—were found to be more susceptible to the disorder. As a former comedian and present alcoholic, I say hogwash! (gulp.)