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Internet May Be Fueling Shopping Addiction

NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- As many as 17 million Americans, most of them women, have been diagnosed with shopping addiction. Now, addiction experts say there's an alarming new trend: teenage shopaholics, provoked in part by the internet.

"I really like this nail polish, I definitely recommend picking it up," says one teen in a video posted on YouTube.

"Everyone was asking me what mascara I've been wearing, and it was this one," another YouTube poster said.

They're weren't part of a television commercial or the shopping network – they were all regular girls participating in the latest phenomenon sweeping the Internet.

"Instead of show and tell, it's now shop and tell," April Benson, an expert in shopping addiction, says.

Here's how it works: first the teens power-shop, buying as much as they can afford. Then, they post a video of everything they brought home, called a "haul video."

Kids say it's no different than trying on clothes for each other, except that it's on a much bigger stage. Critics, though, say it's not like that at all, and this new online trend may be fueling a dangerous shopping addiction in teens.

"It's certainly emphasizing, again, that consumption is where it's at," Benson says.

Benson, who specializes in the treatment of compulsive buying, is concerned about the effect of haul videos on young people. She says they promote the idea that buying equals a better life.

"It's in that message that happiness is only as far away as the next purchase," she said.

Furthermore, Benson says, the other obvious danger is this kind of shopping leads to more shopping, which can lead to huge credit card bills. It's a vicious cycle that 21-year-old self-proclaimed shopaholic Angelica Boccella has been trying to break.

"I was buying things and then forgetting I had them, then going through my closet like a week later and saying, 'you already have this,'" Angelica said.

Now, her closets are bursting at the seams.

"She must have – no exaggeration – maybe 300 pairs of shoes," her mother, Lisa Boccella, said.

Boccella's mother says her daughter's shopping addiction started when she was just ten years old. It grew progressively worse, until it spun completely out of control after Angelica got a job at a clothing store.

"The manager said, 'we love your daughter, because when we give her a paycheck, it goes right back into the store,'" Lisa said.

"I owed crazy amounts of money, and had zero amount in my checking account," Angelica says.

"People think it's not as dangerous as drug addiction, alcohol addiction, eating disorders, but in extreme cases it can be," Benson said. "Suicide has been linked to debt in college students."

While Boccella hasn't quit shopping cold turkey, she says she spends far less, and has a warning to the young girls involved in haul videos.

"If you're always worried about what you're going to wear and what styles are in, then you lose sight of your priorities," she said.

Signs of a shopaholic include hiding purchases and skipping other activities to go shopping.

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