Shopping Addiction? There Is Help

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That holiday shopping time of year is soon upon us again, a season that often gives everyone the green light to spend. But for many, spending is an all-year-round addiction, a chronic problem that translates into financial, personal and professional doom. Avon resident, Dr. David Tolin, founder and director of the Anxiety Disorders Center, Director of the Division of Neuropsychology, Director of Health Psychology, and Director for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy at The Institute of Living, is featured on a new docu-series called “My Shopping Addiction.” The series, which airs on the Oxygen Network  Mondays at 11 p.m., gives viewers an inside look at the obsession and how addicts are treated. An adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, Tolin, also an author and guest on programs including “The Dr. Oz Show” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show, “ shared warning signs as we head into the buying season as he “Spilled the Beans” with Java.

Q: All the scientific jargon aside, what is an addictive shopper, especially in this economy when no one can afford anything?

A: The idea behind the shopping addiction is that the person gets so attached to the thrill of purchasing things that they left other aspects of their life go. For example, somebody may feel so good when they shopping they buy clothes they can’t afford. We all do it sometimes but they take it to the extreme. They can’t pay their rent or buy groceries or borrow money and can’t pay it back. In many ways it is similar behavior to gambling. Many engage in a controlled way but some get hooked and can’t stop.

Q: Is it treatable?

A: People with compulsive buying syndrome tend not to reach out for treatment. They may not realize they have a problem. They don’t understand this is a disorder and that they can be treated. The person just gets embarrassed and goes underground. They hide it from people or do the alternative, they become very defensive. They insist nothing is wrong. For the average person, shopping is not inherently a bad thing as long as one understands limits. But when it starts to wreck the rest of your life, it has escalated out of control.

Q: How did Oxygen find you for the show?

A: Oxygen didn’t. The show producers, Screaming Flea Productions did. It is the same group I worked with when I was one of the first psychologists on another show of theirs, “Hoarders.” I left that show to go to VH1 and “The OCD Project.”

Q: What is your role on the new show?

A: I am one of two psychologists who work with those on the show who have a compulsive shopping problem. We take them through a discussion and then exercises on how to change their behavior. We increase their awareness of the problem and then work with them on tools they need to change that behavior. Compulsive behavior can come under control if you have the tools. The challenge is that unlike gambling or drinking, you can’t stop the behavior. You can’t prohibit a person from ever going in a store again so you need to teach them how to cope with the environment.

Q: How do you know if you are addicted to shopping?

A: Ask yourself whether you find yourself habitually buying things you don’t need and can’t afford. And is your shopping impacting other important areas of life, hurting financial health, relationships, is it intruding on work or other activities

Q: Do you think these reality help shows work?

A: There is a value depending on how it is presented and in a way that is accessible. In “Hoarders” we saw it and in “The OCD Project” we did too. There were lots of people who could see they might have the illness and that there is treatment. And those were great examples of when tv works. There are some shows that don’t have the same noble aspiration. I won’t name them but they are more interested in shocking the audience or holding people up to be ridiculed.

Q: Do you have a shopping Achilles Heel?

A: Put me in a fishing store and I get very interested. I am a bit of a handyman so I love Home Depot. But it is also important to recognize that even if those stores, I understand what my limits are. I can look without buying.


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