Compulsive Buying Syndrome

Shopping | | March 9, 2007 at 18:03

The data is startling. Nearly 6% of adults in America are unable to resist shopping binges that leave them depressed, anxious and in debt. The interesting part is that men suffer from “buying gone bad” almost as often as women. I haven’t seen very many “Shop til you drop” in men-sized T-shirts, but apparently the problem is there; it just doesn’t fit our stereotyping. Women are more prone to seek help for their mental and emotional problems, thus our warped perception that this is a “girl thing.”

Mental health workers actually regard the compulsion as an addiction – an addiction to spending, rather than gambling, smoking, eating, sex, pornography, alcohol and drugs – the usual suspects. They have gathered their data from interviews asking about the cardinal signs of compulsive buying:

  • Senseless impulses to buy
  • Frequent purchases of unneeded or “unaffordable” items
  • Shopping for longer periods than intended
  • Financial problems stemming from overspending
  • Emotional letdowns after buying sprees

I’d like to add to this list:

  • Going shopping for something to do
  • Going shopping because you feel blue

A high score on this tally occurs in 6% of women and 5% of men, regardless of race or ethnic background. The average age is 40 years – which is scary to think that you don’t grow out of it. Sadly a majority had incomes under $50,000/yr, obviously a group with little mad money at their disposition. They tend to have the same number of credit cards as other people, but typically max out their limits and opt for minimum payment each month, regardless of their incomes.

Not yet accepted as a psychiatric disorder, there is a push to have in included as a behavioral addition in the next manual of psychiatric diagnoses coming out in 2011. As depression and anxiety seem to go hand in hand with compulsive buying/spending, some believe that anti-depressants might be helpful as a treatment. We have restricted tobacco advertising and hard alcohol advertising. Will we reach the point when we realize that easy credit and the constant barrage of advertising that fuels our cravings for more are having a significant impact on a segment of society ill-equipped to resist the temptation?

I’m going to think of this article from Science News, Oct 07 2006 when I rummage through Marshall’s next time, uncovering all the wonderfully-priced bargains that I could have lived without before they caught my eye. I recall one afternoon when I chatted with a fellow-shopper. “I love coming here,” she confided. “It’s so therapeutic.” There you have it.