Everyone knows a shopaholic. Perhaps you're one yourself.
Generally, society treats shopaholism as a rather cute, rather endearing trait. We fondly tease shopaholics about their behavior. Many people actually brag about how much they shop, and it's also become rather trendy to complain about paying off large credit card debts.
Carolyn Wesson would like all that to stop.
Her new book, "Women Who Shop Too Much" (St. Martin's Press, $9.95), at first seems like a joke, a weak attempt to satirize the self-help tomes in bookstores. There's even a chapter titled "Men Who Love Women Who Shop Too Much."
But make no mistake. Wesson, a therapist and self-described "recovering addicted shopper," doesn't find the subject funny.
Basically, Wesson's premise is that shopping too much is as much an addictive behavior as drinking too much. She believes addicted shoppers compulsively buy things to try to fill a void in their lives. And she worries that downplaying the addiction's seriousness makes it seem like acceptable behavior.
The book is filled with case studies and quick quizzes to measure the stress in your life and determine if your shopping behavior has veered from the realm of shopaholic one who only occasionally uses shopping to alter her mood and who generally feels better after shopping to that of addicted shopper one who has lost control of her shopping habits.
All of this may sound overly dramatic to you; it certainly did to me. I giggled as I read about Eve, who periodically tries to curb her shopping by freezing her credit cards but then microwaves them back to life when she needs another spree.
My husband asked what I was reading and then snidely commented: "Oh, it's your autobiography." We both laughed.
Like any problem, this one is funny only to people who don't have it.
While parts of Wesson's theory still seem philosophically heavy-handed much of the book is sensible and well-researched.
Will it help you? It might, if the following symptoms sound uncomfortably familiar:
* Even though you feel increasingly guilty about your shopping, you are unable to stop.
* You have trouble getting to sleep at night, or you wake up during the night worrying about shopping or your growing debt.
* You buy things you don't really want, or aren't even able to use.
* You and your spouse are fighting about your shopping.
* You are unable to pay all your bills from your income and are increasingly dipping into savings, using the checking account overdraft service or borrowing against your credit cards.
* You pay bills after the due date or make partial payments.
* Creditors have canceled your credit cards or are threatening to do so. Or you've been turned down for credit.
* You are considering a consolidation loan to cover your monthly bills.
* You are increasingly preoccupied with shopping.
What's that? You're in the clear? Great. Save yourself the $9.95. And go shopping.