MIAMI – "Shop-'til-you-drop" and "shopping therapy" may be terms in everyday vernacular, but there's growing evidence that millions of us don't just go shopping -- we are shopaholics.
Knowing the signs is the first step to healing, but it's a complicated problem that requires many different types of intervention for a long-term fix.
Some of the questions you may answer to find out if your shopping habits are dangerously compulsive include:
Do you shop every week? Do you need what you buy? Do you hide what you buy? Do you hide your credit card balances from your spouse?
"The excitement before going shopping, the excitement, the absolute, I don't have to think about anything else," said a Debter's Anonymous member of more than 20 years who asked that we not identify her.
She said it was like being addicted to alcohol, drugs or gambling, and just as expensive.
Another member who is a very successful businesswoman said she spent everything she made and then some.
"You can't stop shopping. You can't stop spending the family grocery money, you can't stop doing all this, and you don't know why. That is where the confusion comes in," she explained.
When the confusion grew too much, she turned to the 12-step program that not only helps you find support among others who are compulsive shoppers, but also those who rang up huge debts. The support group provides mentors to help you find your way out of debt, and out of shopping malls with your credit intact.
"Some people are shopping for love and affection. Some people are shopping for a sense of belonging, some people are shopping for self esteem, for the esteem of other people," said April Benson, a psychologist who has written books on the subject.
Benson said the internet has made the problem worse because instead of a store, people can now shop quietly 24/7. She added that men now are a growing demographic with these sorts of compulsions.
Benson recommends you post a note on your computer and credit card with six questions.
"Why am I here, how do I feel, do I need this, what if I wait, how will I pay for it, and where will I put it?" she added.
If you answer truthfully, you often won't make a needless purchase. If you can't help it, it may be time to seek help with a professional such as herself, or a 12-step Debtor's Anonymous group.
Those who have been there and conquered it to go on and live richer lives say, "When you come in and you find out that this is actually a disease, and that there are steps you can take to resolve it, you don't feel so guilty about yourself."