Thanks to Sophie Kinsella, "Shopaholic" sounds relatively harmless, almost cute — sort of like a slightly naughtier chocoholic. But for 6% of the population, Omniomania's a real disease and anything but a laughing matter.
Although it frequently coexists with other disorders, shopping addiction was defined as its own clinical problem in the early 20th century, and has been on the books since the 19th. Shopping addiction is often set off by a traumatic event: those who suffer from it are seeking to assert control in their lives. (Boredom is a culprit too — often people who end up becoming addicted consider "shopping" their primary hobby.) Says one analyst quoted in a Newsweek piece on Omniomania, "they distract themselves for a moment, they zero in on something and find something, and for a moment, everything is blacked out. All they're thinking about is getting what they want. And when they get it, they feel an accomplishment."
Of course, this explains the appeal of acquisition for anyone, to a degree — the high that's been proven to come from shopping — but the difference is degree. And of course, the usual symptoms of addiction: you need more and more to achieve that high. There are also consequences: financial, obviously, but also a frequent erosion of relationships and general quality of life.
Part of the problem is that it's a hard thing to discuss: as the article points out, even as the disorder has been identified, not all medical professionals take it seriously, or see it as anything other than a symptom of a larger issue or depression. But it's something that will need to be dealt with increasingly, since it's young people who are most vulnerable. As the same analyst tells Newsweek, "For younger people, culturally, they've experienced a fairly recent shift in consumerism...The peer pressure is part of that, and young people are more into fashion."
Of course, that same generation has also just been faced with a global recession at an equally impressionable age, and while the article observes that it's a bad time to be overspending (thanks!) it also fails to address to what extent this has ameliorated — or exacerbated — the problem. We'd guess that fast fashion, with its promise of easy, low-risk acquisition, hasn't been incidental to the uptick — lots of small things add up, and we've lost our collective sense that things need to last or make sense with our lifestyles. The majority of those who suffer from the disorder are women: yet another reason to encourage young women to look beyond externals and find abiding interests. Because it's not like the culture of consumerism — or targeted advertising — is going anywhere.
Confessions Of Real Shopaholics [Newsweek]