So what should consumers do?
"Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery," said Shulman, adding that compulsive spending is "not unlike any other psychological disorder, [and] people can't just will themselves to stop." Once you've conquered that, he suggests the following:
- Seek out and read books on the topic of shopping addiction.
- Seek out professional help with a counselor or therapist who specializes in treating shopping addiction. Join and attend a support group (local, phone or online) such as Debtors Anonymous.
- Avoid stores, TV shopping and/or Internet shopping for the time being, and have others help you by holding your credit cards, blocking TV shopping channels and websites. Also avoid people who encourage you to shop.
- Fill time with healthy people and activities.
Debtors Anonymous utilizes tools—including meetings, sponsorships and pressure-relief action plans—to help members resolve debt and establish savings. But in order to seek insurance coverage, the patient must be diagnosed as having an underlying compulsive disorder.
Clinicians are quick to clarify that debt addiction isn't an illness recognized by "The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," published by the American Psychiatric Association. That's an important distinction, because the insurance industry uses DSM as a claim qualifier.
Yarrow adds that "spending as a compulsion may not be a diagnostic category, but support groups and self-help programs are surfacing all across the country, and that's what most people need—support, reassurance, structure and a plan to follow."
Read MoreAmericans need a financial wake-up call
—By DaVida Plummer, special to CNBC.com