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Debit? Credit? Heroin?

October 25, 2009

Hi, my name is Audrey Monroe, and I’m a shopaholic.

Despite the fact that I haven’t had extra cash to spend on extravagant items like clothes and shoes (of which I really don’t need any more of, if I’m honest with myself) in roughly a year, I still continue to shop whenever I come into even the slightest amount of money. It’s not even the need of new things that normally drives me, but the need to shop. I walk into a store and my whole body feels more relaxed and happier, the feelings ever intensified by the weight of shopping bags in my hands. When I’m down, I find myself itching to shop. I am a wholehearted believer in retail therapy. I’ve even found myself saying “it’s a good thing I don’t have money right now, because if I did, a whole lot of it would be disappearing right now,” and then I go get myself a pint of ice cream instead. By the time I started likening shopping to “a fix” I started to wonder, is it possible that shopping is as physically addicting a behavior as, say, doing drugs? Does retail therapy really sooth the soul as much as a morphine drip?

Well, maybe it isn’t so surprising to serious shoppers like myself but research has shown that shopping actually releases the same chemicals in the brain as other activities we associate with “a high” like drugs or sex. When researchers monitored the brain activity of women shopping they found that the reward center was activated, stimulating the release of dopamine and serotonin. (Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters involved with drug addiction and impulsive behavior.) Interestingly enough, this heightened activity wasn’t necessarily associated with discovering the items the women would end up buying. Sometimes it was simply an exchange with a friendly sales clerk or looking at an eye-pleasing display, or the anticipation of turning into a new aisle, making the shopping experience as a whole what brought on the euphoric feeling.

Another theory is that women tend to go on shopping sprees in time with their hormonal cycles. During ovulation, we’re subconsciously trying to appear more attractive for prospective mates, since it’s the window for our highest state of fertility.

Besides the chemical reaction, there is a deeply rooted psychological reasoning behind the need to shop as well. First of all, it’s a social activity, and many women crave interaction with other women. This is a very basic need and, since women have largely been responsible for shopping for the household ever since marketplaces existed, the two are intrinsically connected in our minds. Also, as materialistic as it may sound, shopping is a crucial part of the quest for identity. Buying new things closes the gap between who we are and who we aspire to be.

Part of me wishes I never discovered this information. For awhile I’ve almost considered my shopping addiction as a flaw, but the next time I’m fighting the urge to go strolling round the stores to swear off the blues I’ll just give in. It’s written in the way my brain is wired, after all.

Originally written March 30, 2009

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