Mark Muldoon has coined the term “ambient addiction” to speak of those things that surround us in our daily lives –that are “normal” until they become a distraction or a drug—taking us out of ourselves.
We can all name some of them: coffee, ice cream, baked goods, television, Facebook and other social media. We even talk about “bingeing” on new TV shows, and going through “withdrawal” if we do not have our morning coffee right on time. You could make the case that food –especially coffee and sugar—is a chemical addiction because there is a chemical reaction in our bodies with these food/drugs.
But what about shopping? Can shopping be an addiction?
I’m asking, of course, because I love clothes and shoes and accessories. Always have. When I had less money I shopped at Goodwill and consignment stores, when I have more money I shop at Macy’s, Nordstrom and yes, online. Online shopping has a deep intersection with Internet addiction because we both use the same technology and we are baited to shop by online ads, Facebook posts, and by emails from our favorite retailers with discount coupons. (Does anyone ever pay full price at Ann Taylor?)
So yes, shopping can take up time, it can interrupt family life or creative work, it’s a distraction and a wonderful method of procrastination. Fashion magazines are like drug dealers, “What you need this summer.” “What every stylish woman has to have.” But is it an addiction?
Some social scientists would say yes. Those who do the brain research will say that shoppers get a hit of adrenaline and that their brains light up in the same places for both cocaine and a 75% off sale at Saks. So biochemically, it’s possible.
But what about culture? How we look, and issues of style and costume are cultural. Gender approaches to clothing and the quite genuine language of clothing have been studied and dissected. I love all of that. But yes, I also love that sale at Saks—and that has little to do with a PhD in American Studies or Material Culture.
What gives me a clue that my shopping has addictive tendencies is that way that I think and my language. (Language is the tool of thought and we know that with other kinds of recovery, “We come for the drinking and stay for the thinking.”)
Want a mini test to see if your thoughts about shopping are addictive? Try this. Have you ever said to yourself any of the following?
“I don’t really need anything, but I’ll just go look.”
“Wow, that’s a huge discount, so maybe I should stock up.”
“I can stop shopping, I’m in control, I’m making a choice” (as your car swings into the mall parking lot again)
“This will be the last one. After this I won’t need anymore shoes, bags, scarves, earrings.”
“It can’t hurt to look” (and later you are in the car with bags and receipts—and regrets.)
The regrets and remorse are big clues. If you are driving home from shopping filled with joy or opening a package from UPS with delight-- that’s one thing. But if the feeling is dread or regret or shame—then maybe it’s another addiction