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Black Friday Sales Fuel Shopaholics


Black Friday sales are a way for many people to search for bargains, that “perfect” holiday gift, or even get into the holiday spirit. But for shopaholics, Black Friday sales are an easy way to fuel their addiction and justify their behavior.

A recent study published in the December 2008 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research noted that the number of compulsive shoppers may be 8.9 percent, which equals more than 25 million Americans. Shopaholics suffer from an obsessive-compulsive disorder similar to compulsive gambling and binge eating. Although this condition is not formally listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, considered to be the bible of psychological conditions, it is recognized by the German psychiatric community as a subset of obsessive-compulsive disorder and considered to be the same by many of their American colleagues.

Shopaholics feel an overwhelming need to shop; they do not need a Black Friday sale, or any sale, to justify their behavior. According to Shopaholics Anonymous, a division of the Shulman Center, which specializes in spending addictions, people who spend compulsively do so to satisfy an emotional need. Many people with compulsive-shopping disorder also suffer from depression and anxiety. They shop in hopes of reducing their tension and anxiety, but in reality it does not work.

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In fact, they often feel worse after their shopping sprees. Many shopaholics have accumulated incredible amounts of credit debt that they cannot pay, forcing some into bankruptcy. Compulsive buying can destroy marriages and friendships and cause people to lose their jobs. Some compulsive spenders even have emotional blackouts and cannot remember their shopping sprees, while other turn to shoplifting.

Terrence Shulman, JD, LMSW, and founder of the Shulman Center, notes that compulsive shopping seems to be associated with an inability to tolerate negative feelings such as loneliness and pain, a need to fill an emotional void, excitement seeking, perfectionism, a need to gain control, emotional deprivation in childhood, and genuinely being impulsive and compulsive.

April L. Benson, PhD, author of I Shop, Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self, says that while shopping can promote a sense of self, it can also become uncontrollable and as dangerous as drug addiction. She noted in a New York Times article that in good economic times, shopaholics “work with extra fervor to keep up with the Joneses. But in lean times, their guilt is a conflicting brew of shame (widespread unemployment) and temptation (cut-rate sales).” Black Friday sales are a prime example of such temptations for shopaholics.

New York Times, Jan 28, 2009 (Feuer)
Shulman Center and Shopaholics Anonymous