Binge Shopping, Society and Self Soothing

Professional Q&A with Terrence Shulman, Founder/Director, The Shulman Center

Binge Shopping, Society and Self Soothing


Terrence Daryl Shulman, JD, LMSW, ACSW, CAADC, CPC is Founder/Director of The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending & Hoarding in Metro-Detroit. 

Mr. Shulman completed his undergraduate degree in English Literature at the University of Michigan in 1987.  He graduated from The Detroit College of Law in 1991 and has been an attorney-at-law since 1992 specializing in mental health law and criminal defense work. 

He returned to and graduated from the University of Michigan in 1997 and has since then been a full-time certified social worker and addictions therapist. 

Mr. Shulman has organized and presented at many conferences across the U.S.  He has also been featured in numerous media interviews including The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2004.

Since 2004, Mr. Shulman has been the Founder/Director of The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending & Hoarding in metro-Detroit.  He counsels clients in person and by phone from across the U.S. and Canada.

Mr. Shulman is the founder of C.A.S.A. (Cleptomaniacs And Shoplifters Anonymous) which has support groups in the metro-Detroit area and across the U.S.  He has been in recovery himself since March 1990 from addictive-compulsive shoplifting and stealing.  

Mr. Shulman has authored four recovery books: “Something for Nothing: Shoplifting Addiction and Recovery” (2003), “Biting The Hand That Feeds: The Employee Theft Epidemic” (2005), “Bought Out and $pent! Recovery from Compulsive $hopping and $pending” (2008), and “Cluttered Lives, Empty Souls: Compulsive Stealing, Spending & Hoarding” (2011). 


In your experience as a counselor do binge shoppers have a recovery rate or relapse rate different than those who attend an Intensive Outpatient Program (I.O.P.) or those who seek one on one counseling?

I don’t have that data, but [in my experience] most binge shoppers, or addicts in general, would benefit from both intensive counseling and ongoing support group attendance.


In your practice, have you seen a certain demographic that is most at risk for binge shopping?

I’d say I see slightly more women than men.  The statistics show that women overshop a bit more than men do.

I don’t think there’s a particular “demographic”, as I work with people of all ages and backgrounds.  I’d say people who have low self-esteem and low inner worth tend to overshop for themselves and/or others in order to make themselves feel worthy, acceptable and valuable.


Is there a role that society plays in exacerbating binge shopping behavior?    If so, are you trying to change that through your appearances and interviews?

I do believe that society and advertising give us constant messages to buy stuff to feel “good enough”; especially during the holidays.

We are trying to “keep up with the Joneses” but the new Joneses aren’t the neighbors down the block, they are the rich and famous people we see on TV.

If you could change public perception about the kleptomaniac or compulsive shopper, what would you change?

I’d make people aware that approximately 10% of our population (or 30 million Americans) compulsively shoplift or overshop.   In each community, [kleptomaniac and compulsive shopper] it’s more people than you’d think.

I’d say that people should know that the reasons [people do it] are more emotional than financial or material and that these behaviors can become addictive and deserve specialized help.


In your experience, having struggled with this issue, are there environments that are safer than others for the binge shopper?

Well, it used to be that just avoiding stores was safe but now people can shop through their TVs, Smart Phones, or computers.  I’d suggest finding safe, healthy places and people to be around and engaging in safe and healthy activities.

Also, go to recovery meetings and stay focused on good things.


How does the presence of the 24 hour shopping networks and the internet change how treatment is provided?

It makes it harder but more necessary to set limits on TV and computer usage and to use channel and website blockers.  Also, it makes it vital for recovering people to get out of the house and do something creative and active.


From the neurobiological aspect, there are several medications promoted to assist with the pleasure and reward centers of the brain.  Are there medications that you feel help to resolve the triggers that people face on a daily basis?

There have been some studies with drugs like Naltrexone, Celexa, and Memantine that have showed some promise in curbing urges to shop or shoplift.


Is it common for a binge shopper to have comorbidity with other mental health issues?

I’d say that at least 50% of my clients are on some form of medication for help with depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, bipolar, or some other mental illness/emotional disorder.


Is there specific research being performed that you are encouraged by?  If so, what is it and who is doing it?

As noted above, there is some current research being done.  I think the fact that there are more books, TV shows, and groups that are out there for overshoppers and people who steal [is encouraging].


Have you found that people who are in treatment or recovery substitute other impulse control issues when they stop shopping?  For example, people who stop drinking often replace that behavior with eating or smoking.

Yes, I find that to be quite common.  I work on this with my clients all the time.  I see a lot of cross-addiction between shopping and stealing and hoarding.


In Bought Out and Spent, you wrote that there is a tendency to use “compulsive buying disorder” and “poor money management” interchangeably.  Do you see any significant difference in these two phrases?

I think most compulsive buyers are poor money managers but many were not so before they started their compulsive buying.  Compulsive buying is [a disorder] that is primarily emotional and addictive and it needs to be treated as such.


Most people do not know the statistic that nearly 6% of the American population, approximately half of which are men, suffer from shopping addiction.  That seems to indicate that little attention is being paid to this behavior.  What would you like to see happen in order to bring more awareness to this problem?

I think we’re on the right track by promoting awareness that shopping and spending can be addictive and chronic.  Partners, family and friends of overshoppers need education to understand how they can best support the recovery of the addict.

Also, we need more research and more therapists trained in this field.


Binge shopping is a problem that affects families as much as any other compulsive behavior. Where do you suggest that the ‘support network’ go to get support themselves?

They should read books, get therapy themselves and go to Debt-Anon (Alanon for Debtors Anonymous)


Do you believe that there is an economic impact surrounding binge shopping?

There are always adverse financial consequences with any addictions but with overshopping, there can be debt, divorce, loss of job, loss of goals.


Terry, thank you so much for your time.  If people would like to reach you or seek treatment from The Shulman Center, what methods should they use?

Terrence Daryl Shulman, Founder/Director
The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending & Hoarding
PO Box 250008
Franklin, Michigan 48025
Phone/Fax: 248-358-8508

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