There is a fine line between loving to shop and being addicted to shopping. There is a fine line between being an impulse buyer and being a compulsive buyer. And there is a fine line between manageable debt and nagging debt.

No, “nagging” is not a technical term found in the Bankruptcy Code, but we all understand what nagging debt is, and we have all experienced that feeling at one time or another. For many of us, it has come after the holidays, when we realize that we owe more than we can comfortably pay off.

Just one or two experiences with overspending along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile at Christmastime aren’t necessarily the sign of compulsive shopping disorder. According to the American Journal on Addictions, only 7 percent of Americans suffer from the disorder — a small percentage, until you realize it translates into 20 million people.

People with the disorder cannot stop themselves from shopping. Unfortunately, technology has made it easier than ever to shop 24/7. It is now possible to order online at the same moment you order from QVC or another shopping network. There is hardly a minute in the day that does not present an opportunity to buy.

According to one woman suffering from the disorder, there is a real sense of euphoria that goes with shopping. Buying is wonderful, but it is quickly followed by remorse. Just as compulsive gamblers are just one turn of the wheel away from the big jackpot, compulsive shoppers are just one purchase away from filling an inexplicable void in their lives.

This woman says she returns merchandise all the time. She also says that she has received packages that she completely forgot she had ordered. What she seldom forgets, it seems, is how many thousands of dollars she owes. Even without the credit card statement in front of her, she knows that her shopping is putting her family in financial hot water.

For many, the easiest way to dispel the stress of being in debt is, unfortunately, shopping. And the cycle continues.

We don’t want to encourage people to self-diagnose any kind of psychological disorder, but experts suggest everyone take a debt quiz to gauge his or her attitudes toward overspending and unwieldy credit card debt. We’ll go through the questions in our next post.

Source: CNBC, “Debt addiction: Red is not the new black. Shopaholics beware,” DaVida Plummer, July 7, 2014