Is being a shopaholic truly an addiction?

Is being a shopaholic truly an addiction… or is it just an excuse for greed As scientists say they’ve found a pill to cure it, two women – one of whom admits having over 1,000 of unworn clothes – give fiercely opposing views



21:24 GMT, 30 May 2012


The name itself gives the game away: ‘shopaholic’. Get it Of course we do: by borrowing, as it does, from ‘alcoholic’, it deliberately implies that the two problems have something in common.

This is not mere over-indulgence, the name insists; this is a disease. A condition, a syndrome, whose ‘victims’ — just like those in the grip of alcohol — deserve your heartfelt compassion.

Now scientists in the U.S. claim they have found a pill which can cure shopaholics. Psychiatrists tested a medication called memantine, normally prescribed to prevent deterioration in patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease. The results showed that after eight weeks, men and women taking the pill reduced the amount of time they devoted to shopping and the amount of money they spent.

Spend, spend, spend: Isla Fisher in the film Confessions of a shopaholic - does her character need a cure

Spend, spend, spend: Isla Fisher in the film Confessions of a shopaholic – does her character need a cure

Offering a cure suggests they, too, believe they are dealing with an illness — an attitude I regard as another nail in the coffin of common sense.

To suggest that those who cannot pass John Lewis without popping in to bankrupt themselves are in the same boat as a person who knows that their next pint or whisky could kill them — and then drinks it anyway — is, frankly, an insult to alcoholics.

For some unfortunate people, alcohol is actually a poison, up there with crack cocaine. When their system is infused with it, they really cannot help themselves: not their decay, not their degradation, and certainly not their actions. Indeed, so piteous is alcoholism at its worst, that at first glance it’s hard to see why any Louboutin-strutting fashionista would wish to be even remotely associated with it.

At second glance, however, it’s all too tragically obvious. It’s precisely because, however grudgingly, we accept alcoholics are driven by forces beyond their control, so too do these so-called shopaholics want to be considered as bona fide addicts. They also want to be excused.

They don’t want us to believe their spending habit is nothing more than selfish greed; far better, from their point of view, that we feel sorry for them instead. So, one afternoon, one High Street, ten pairs of shoes and a purple bustier that doesn’t quite fit Not her fault, is it The girl can’t help it.

Cut up your credit cards: Carol Sarler thinks people who spend too much need to take responsibility

Cut up your credit cards: Carol Sarler thinks people who spend too much need to take responsibility

Well, I’m afraid — if you’ll pardon the pun — I don’t buy it. For a start, if it were a genuine affliction, it would have been around as long as shops have and it would apply to both sexes and all ages. But it hasn’t and it doesn’t.

When a man roars past in one of those midlife-crisis cars, clad in Armani and bling that most would guess he cannot afford, what do people say ‘Tacky’, at worst. More likely: ‘Last of the big spenders, huh’ Or, on a good day: ‘Wow!’

They do not, however, call him a shopaholic. That’s a title reserved solely for women — very often used to describe themselves, and for those of an age and a mentality who relish the idea that they’re just too girly-weak to be expected to exercise self-control.

My mother’s generation wouldn’t have dreamt of it. The ethic of her time was that if you really wanted something you worked for it. Or saved. Or usually both.

Growing up after her and her post-war austerity, I take more pleasure than she did in shops that are, admittedly, more tempting than any she ever saw. And yes, of course, I know what it is to splurge and, yes, of course, I have sometimes overdone it.

But it is a point of pride with me to redress that balance (customary punishment, in my case, is peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, every single day until I have saved enough on food to pay myself back).

Now, however, we’re immersed in the ‘because I’m worth it’ generation, a mantra happily espoused by spoilt brats who seem quite unable to grasp the simple maths: you are worth exactly — and not a penny more than — what you have in your bank account.

Indulged by parents or sometimes by husbands hellbent on making rods for their own backs, these are women who confuse ‘need’ and ‘want’ and whose desire to own for owning’s sake outweighs anything approaching self-respect.

Yet still they live in denial. Not about the money spent — rejected credit cards remind them of that — nor even that much of their money is wasted. Wardrobes full of the unworn and unloved bear testimony there. What they continue to deny is that any part of it is actually their fault.

'Women who spend their children’s supper on shoes don’t deserve our understanding or support'

You hear them whining away on radio phone-ins (though mostly not until after they’ve been nabbed by their bank or a bailiff) about their urges and depressions and stresses, while the phone-in host murmurs sweet encouragement.

And all the while, so fiercely liberal have we become about anything that masquerades as an addiction, not one person ever comes on and says: ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, get over yourself.’ A few urges overcome, a few miseries endured, a few stresses bravely borne never hurt anyone.

If your credit cards are burning a hole in your pocket, cut them up. If you can’t go out without spending cash, stay at home. You’re not ill, honey — you’re stupid.

Instead, all we get is sympathy, and all that sympathy brings, according to the U.S. research, is this: women who earn a decent whack but nevertheless end up thousands in debt because they spend more than 60 per cent of it on impulsive purchases — mainly clothes — during an average of 38 hours a week in shops.

For this, we manned the barricades, clenched our fists and screamed our strength: ‘I am Woman, hear me roar . . .’ It is dispiriting enough to see women weakened by the whims and whimsy of men; it is infinitely more so to see women weakened, of their own volition, by a wilful refusal to act more like grown-ups and less like children in a sweet shop.

Sympathy be damned, I say. Women who spend their children’s supper on shoes don’t deserve our understanding or support — let alone these magical new pills — to relieve their ‘symptoms’. What they really deserve is a smacked bottom.


Weakness: Tamara has clothes she never wears

Weakness: Tamara has clothes she never wears

Shopping is my biggest weakness. It’s a compulsion that dominates my life. So when I read about the possibility of a pill to cure shopaholics, it was music to my ears.

I would try almost anything to cure my shopping problem — even medication. I don’t think I am merely over-indulging myself. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I had an addiction; characterised by the same highs and lows shared by alcoholics, drug addicts or gamblers.

I spend hundreds of pounds every month on things I don’t need and I have more than 1,000 worth of unworn clothes in my wardrobe, sitting there untouched. Reminders of my guilty habit.

It’s not an addiction that means I can’t function, but it affects my life nevertheless. I frequently feel it’s out of control. And when I think of the money I could have saved by now if I didn’t splurge so often, I am consumed with guilt.

It started in my early teens, when I spent all my pocket on No7 Flamboyant Lilac lipstick and black eyeliner. I progressed to buying my first designer dress when I was only 16 and since then my habit has only got worse.

Moving to London and launching a career in glossy magazines didn’t help. Most lunch breaks were spent scouring the shops, and while my colleagues used to joke about my ‘habit’, it had barely begun to take hold at that stage.

Deciding to leave London, I opened a fashion and lifestyle boutique in Bath with a girlfriend.

I had the most fabulous clothes and accessories on tap, and we would spend hours discussing the importance of skinny jeans and high heels, or how our lives would be transformed if we bought the latest St Tropez tanning spray. My job facilitated my shopping habit.

Now that I’m working from home, the internet has become my new best friend. If I am down, a new purchase will put the world to rights. I get such a high when the postman brings a delivery, that I often leave it a day or two before opening the package, simply to prolong the suspense, and, dare I say it, euphoria.

If things go wrong, a new dress washes the problem away for a day or two. But the fix is always temporary, and before I know it, I’m back on

I have a friend who shops for clothes that are practical, comfortable and durable. She buys them because she needs them, not because she lusts after them. And, more importantly, she wears the clothes she buys.

My wardrobe is full of beautiful items I never wear. I buy them thinking I’ll sparkle down the high street in my fashionable wedges and maxi dress, but in reality, my jeans and Warehouse top are just, well, comfortable.

I still have a bag under my desk with a top in it that I bought last summer, unopened and still in its tissue paper. I can’t even remember what it looks like.

Shop till you drop: Tamara admits she needs to learn to control her spending

Shop till you drop: Tamara admits she needs to learn to control her spending

But it doesn’t stop there. The unworn clothes in my wardrobe include a Mango maxi dress, a Brora blouse, a Twenty12 mac from Harvey Nichols, two pairs of coloured jeans, two dresses from Topshop, a Warehouse dress, and a dress from Net-a-Porter.

I thought after I had my daughter, Daisy, now three, my shopping habit would naturally subside, but in reality it has got worse.
Because I still haven’t lost some of my baby weight, I’m now buying clothes that I will slim in to. A very dangerous strategy, I know.

I have also discovered that accessories are a great alternative when clothes don’t fit. Last week, it was a Mulberry Bayswater handbag from Fashion Bloodhound, but being ‘pre-loved’ it was a fraction of the price, therefore in my eyes, completely justifiable.

This week, it might be a beautiful embroidered bag from Anusha, a long coral necklace from Mee Boutique, or a large crystal ring from Alexandra May. My daughter also has a rather fabulous wardrobe with more Mini Boden, JoJo Maman Bebe and Gap Kids than she can possibly wear.

'If things go wrong, a new dress washes the problem away for a day or two'

I’d love not be wasting my hard-earned cash on clothes that don’t even see the light of day. Would I rather be saving instead of spending Of course I would.

I haven’t sought help in the past for my shopping addiction, as there have always been more important issues to deal with such as four years of fertility treatment and other family problems.

But now that I’m writing this, I can see that something clearly needs to be done.

Like losing weight, if it was as easy as popping a magic pill, I would seriously consider trying it. I know that shopping doesn’t actually make my life better, it just fills my wardrobe with clothes that no one ever sees and makes me poorer.

And I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking that shopping like this is acceptable.

So if the shopping pill becomes available, I’ll be among the first to pop it.

And in the meantime I’ll do my best to curb my spending, even setting myself a goal and saving up for a holiday instead.

With the 200 to 300 that I spend a month on clothes, we could probably get to Barbados! But only after I’ve bought the sparkly flip-flops that I saw in Gap yesterday.