Addictive Behaviors: Using them with fictional characters

As writers we do all kinds of research for our books: historical aspects, setting details, career information, and so many more types of information. For one particular story, Too Much Red at Christmas Time,  in my new Christmas anthology release from Black Velvet Seductions, Cowboys in Charge, I researched a growing problem in our society: Shopaholism. I hope some of you reading this will recognize this behavior in yourself or in someone who matters to you. These people need your help and understanding.


Shopping ‘til you drop – Shopaholism

Many of us go crazy with shopping at Christmas time because we feel pressured. We want to find that “perfect” gift for our loved ones. Or we want to find at least one thing our loved ones will appreciate receiving. Or we just want to find anything for those people on our shopping list. These are the normal feelings we experience, along with relief when we’ve finished with our shopping tasks.

Some people can’t stop shopping. Compulsive shoppers get caught in a vicious cycle of anxiety. They experience endorphin-fuelled highs, euphoria, and excitement while shopping until they literally drop. When they’ve maxed out their credit cards and bought all they can possibly carry, they must stop shopping…for the moment.

Often these shopaholics buy things they don’t need or really want, including seriously over-buying gifts for others. Guilt quickly replaces the “high” they experienced while shopping. They find it difficult or impossible to face their spouse or significant other with what they have done and with all they have purchased. This guilt leads to secretive behavior. Those unnecessary purchases get hidden away in some manner.

Hidden away or not, these unnecessary purchases have already caused a problem in the compulsive shopper’s life. As the guilt weighs heavily on the person, it triggers the emotional problems forcing them to out and shop. Debt has been increased, often to serious financial instability. And trying to keep all of the shopping and hiding of purchases takes a big toll on relationships with others.

Why does someone compulsively shop? It isn’t known for certain what triggers the behavior, but there are various suspect causes. Some people experience a strong need to feel special and somehow shopping satisfies that, temporarily. Some people shop to combat loneliness, depression, or anger. Some people believe that shopping will somehow change them for the better. There is also a belief that the behavior can have roots in early experience such as an emotionally deprived child or teenager unconsciously replacing what they need with objects.

What are common results of compulsively shopping? This kind of shopper will start changing their shopping habits. Instead of shopping with others, they will shop in secret. Personal or family debt increases, and sometimes these shopaholics will have secret credit card accounts. And relationships with family members, friends, and at work become strained.

What are signs for family members or friends to watch out for in shopaholic behavior?

  • Spending well beyond the budget
  • Compulsive buying of more than one particular item, buying three or more of the item
  • Heavily shopping at more than just Christmas time, and way too much at Christmas time
  • Hiding purchases
  • Having secret credit card accounts
  • Emotionally and physically isolating themselves from others

Research shows that approximately 6% of the United States population suffers from shopping addiction. Of the compulsive shoppers, 80% are female, and the behavior usually begins in the late teen years/early 20’s.

Links for more on the subject:


How Can I Manage Compulsive Shopping —

What Is Shopping Addiction? —

Shopping Spree, or Addiction? —

How to Manage Shopaholism–


EXCERPT: Too Much Red at Christmas Time

(NOTE: These are specific examples from the story that tie in with the compulsive shopping behavior mentioned above.)

I will not buy this for Trent. I will not get him one more present. I won’t. I mean it. I won’t.

Lizzie Morgan heaved a sigh so deep it came up from her toes. She stood in the men’s area of Patterson’s Department Store, Christmas music played overhead, last minute shoppers milled around as they searched for gifts they should have bought before the stock was so picked over. She didn’t need to be here, but she had this bizarre addiction to Christmas shopping. She couldn’t stop.

But you need to stop. Now. Forget these gloves. Just walk away.

She glanced at her best friend Suzy for support in her decision. “I shouldn’t buy these. Right?”

Suzy shook her head, her chin-length blond hair shining under the fluorescent lighting. “Absolutely not. Trent warned you not to charge anything else. His stern command when we left your house is still ringing in my ears.” Her forehead pinched and she sighed in resignation. “But you’re going to buy those gloves anyway.”

“They’ll keep his hands nice and toasty this winter.” Lizzie studied the fine leather gloves with rabbit fur lining. She reached onto the counter and ran her fingers over the inside of one glove. “It’s so soft.”

“They’re not gloves for doing ranch work and that’s all he does.” She studied the gloves, frowned. “Trent won’t appreciate this gift nearly as much as you do.” Ever the logical, responsible one in their friendship, Suzy attempted to pull the gloves away.


She had to understand that he wouldn’t keep letting her get by with spending them into bankruptcy. He’d talked about this too many times already. She’d sworn she understood. But obviously she didn’t – or at least her understanding didn’t change her behavior .

“I don’t know how to make this clear to you. You tell me one thing—promise me—and then go out shopping again. Like we hadn’t even discussed the subject.”

“I don’t even like going shopping that much. But I…I just have to.”

She just had to? She felt compelled to shop? Her emotions were driving her to do this?

“Tell me honestly, Lizzie. Do you have stashes of things you’ve bought? Besides these Christmas gifts? Things you didn’t want me to know about?” He had a bad feeling about this now.

For a second he didn’t think she would answer him and then her head bobbed. “Yes,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

His gut tightened as he recognized real remorse, her embarrassed guilt.



Title: Cowboys in Charge

Genre:  Contemporary, Erotic Romance

Publisher:  Black Velvet Seductions

Publisher Buy Link:  Cowboys in Charge

Buy Link- All Romance Ebooks: Cowboys in Charge

Amazon Buy Link: Cowboys in Charge

2 thoughts on “Addictive Behaviors: Using them with fictional characters

  1. Laurie Sanders

    This is a great post Starla. In addition to the things you mentioned for some people buying THINGS — giving THINGS — is the way that they express love. For some it is the way that love was expressed in their families of origin so it becomes their language of love. For those who grew up getting THINGS instead of time, attention, compassion, understanding the need for those things can feel like an empty hole in themselves that they do not know how to fill in any other way. The shopping can be the thing that they use to try to fill the hole.

    I love seeing issues like this talked about in fiction.

  2. Starla Kaye

    Thanks, Laurie, for stopping by and commenting. This happens to be a topic that I know a lot about, even without the research.

    I was raised where it was important to give gifts for every occasion: birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, Easter. Our family and my husband’s family enjoyed sharing small gifts to remember everything. The size of the gift didn’t matter and many of them were homemade. It was just the thought and love behind wanting to do it.

    But I’ve gone through phases where I was unhappy for one reason or another and going shopping seemed to help…for the moment. I often came home with things I didn’t really want or need. Most of the time when I had that “wake-up moment,” I returned the extra items.

    I also know someone who has a serious problem with this addiction. She used to have closets and boxes full of “gift” items she would buy somewhere and then never give.My husband and I had to help move her once and pack up all of her stuff for a cross-country move. The amount of such stashed away items was shocking. She stopped that kind of purchasing, but moved on to QVC…which turned out to be much worse. She has been struggling with treatments for this compulsive behavior ever since. Really a sad situation.


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