Good News: Compulsive Buying Is A Treatable Illness

Can’t stop shopping? You’re not alone. According to the L.A. Times, one in twenty Americans buy compulsively, a destructive yet treatable economy-propping impulse control disorder.

If those seeking treatment are any gauge, compulsive shopping is an overwhelmingly female condition. Some 80% of those who come forward, say experts, are women. Koran says there’s every reason to believe that men are just as likely to buy compulsively. But “men don’t come for help,” he says.

Gender differences are very real, however, in the tastes and habits of compulsive shoppers. Women, say those who treat the condition, overwhelmingly buy clothes, jewelry, makeup and gifts for other people — largely objects of self-adornment they imagine will enhance their image in the eyes of others. Though many male compulsive shoppers are clotheshorses, experts say they are more commonly “collectors” of things — electronic gadgets, CDs, watches, pens, books, cars. Men, says Koran, tend to have impulse-control problems around shopping when they feel agitated, angry, elated. Depression and boredom are more often the moods that send women to market.

For both, purchases bring a rush of relief from uncomfortable feelings: Patients frequently describe a “rush” of arousal and a release from the unpleasant feelings that generally build in the hours and days before a shopping expedition, says Koran. Indeed, brain-imaging studies have shown that even in normal subjects, anticipating a purchase prompts activity in many of the same pleasure-seeking circuits that are activated when addicts succeed in finding a “fix.”

But disinterest, guilt and remorse tend to set in quickly. Their purchases are often stowed in the back of a closet or in a basement, their price tags never removed. The resulting ill feeling begins building again, and a compulsive shopper will frequently feel the need for another shopping fix. The cycle continues.

Perversely, our little non-recession could actually encourage compulsive buyers to binge shop as a way to distract from other financial woes.

Stanford and UCLA both have programs to treat binge shoppers, and there are 400 Debtors Anonymous chapters nationwide. Treatment encourages patients to ask six questions that all good shoppers should consider before buying:

  • Why am I here?
  • How do I feel?
  • Do I need this?
  • What if I wait?
  • How will I pay for it?
  • Where will I put it?

Shopping’s dark side: The compulsive buyer [L.A. Times]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. So now I find out I’m not only addicted to the internet, but also to shopping. The killer, of course, is shopping online.

    May God help me. Sort of.

  2. donkeyjote says:

    Sign me the fuck up…. NOAW!

    (Also, do they treat packratness?)

  3. donkeyjote says:

    @Gilbert: Easy, just firewall port 443 and *poof* there goes https and secure online shopping. Just remember that anytime you want to shop online, people will identity theft you! *Doom & Gloom*

  4. SAGoon987 says:

    Addictions are destructive and SELF IMPOSED.

  5. LucyInTheSky says:

    i know people that fit this description perfectly. They shop for meaningless crap basically for the sake of owning it because it helps make them feel like their lives have meaning.

    sad, i know.

  6. bohemian says:

    Even more sad and annoying are those who compulsively shop to make themselves feel more validated about themselves and then insist on showing said items to everyone at work and insisting they are superior for owning said item.

  7. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    Let’s face it: we’re a nation of shoppers. There is no cure.

  8. dweebster says:

    This sounds like a great program – I need it now – where can I buy it!!!!

    C’mon, c’mon!!!!

  9. christoj879 says:


  10. Morticia says:

    It’s a great feeling to know that you’ve resisted the retail temptation. You feel more in control.

    For the past year I’ve been after a couple of bedside units – they were $450.00 each (about $200 US) and I managed to get them on sale (flawed but I couldn’t see it) for $80.00 each. That was such a buzz that (a) I hadn’t hiked up my credit card and (b) my patience was rewarded.

    Plus after a year and still wanting them I knew I was buying well, whereas there have been times I’ve wanted somthing and then gone off the idea after a few weeks. Either way you win if only you have the patience. This instant self gratification we have needs to be reigned in a bit.

    Having said all this I’m off shopping now. Wish me luck.

  11. stpauliegirl says:

    See also Heidi on “Intervention.”

  12. @donkeyjote: I love your name, donkeyjote. I laughed for about five minutes straight at the corny brilliance of it.

  13. @stpauliegirl: At about 8:10 she says, “I don’t want to stop getting high. It’s the one thing in my life that doesn’t bitch, that doesn’t push me down, or use me, or anything else, and it makes me…feel better.”

    Someone should tell her you can accomplish the same thing with a goldfish.

  14. stpauliegirl says:

    @Gilbert: Indeed, or even a cat. I know my cat loves me no matter what!

  15. B says:

    @stpauliegirl: At least until the cat eats the goldfish.

  16. @B: B makes a point.

  17. The_IT_Crone says:

    My ex-boyfriend was the worst compulsive shopper I’ve ever seen. I was nice and understanding until he filled the house 4′ high in crap in every room. Every spare moment not at work was (and still is, I’d imagine) spent shopping. He is one of those “it’s on sale so I HAVE to buy it” shoppers.

    It’s horrible to deal with, and considering the EFFORT that it takes to shop I’m amazed that there ARE compulsive shoppers.

  18. kyle4 says:

    I spend all my money, but it’s on things I actually want and use for a long time. In the eight months I worked, I only saved $500. I spent thousands on movies, music, videos games and other items. Thing is, I still like them and haven’t felt bad about buying any of it. I still use them too. But a lot of people including my parents say I have a spending problem. I’m not exactly sure what to think.

  19. HogwartsAlum says:

    That lady in the picture shopped til she dropped.

    I do this with the flea market. I did it last weekend, when I was mad about something, and I wandered around in the flea market for about an hour. I felt much better after I left.

    With a bagful of crap. At least it was cheap crap.

  20. mmejanvier says:

    Why am I here?
    How do I feel?
    Do I need this?
    What if I wait?
    How will I pay for it?
    Where will I put it?

    Is anyone else afraid that if these questions were actually asked our economy would collapse?

  21. xman31 says:

    Okay, I’m pretty sure that I’m a shopaholic, BUT I’m not in debt and pretty much never will be. I have (and probably will always have) the money to support my addiction. How will I ever “hit bottom”?

  22. narf says:

    Yeah, the economy will collapse. A nation of cheapskates like me that DIY almost all the time, repair rather than replace, and purchases many things second hand would spell disaster. (Not that I don’t have my OCD ways … I do. The saving grace is that there isn’t that much Animaniacs stuff that I don’t already have, so.)

    Good thing is that folks can still honestly answer these questions to justify any purchase.

    – Why am I here?
    To buy more crap!

    – How do I feel?
    Better after I buy it!

    – Do I need this?
    My life will seem incomplete without it!

    – What if I wait?
    What’s wait? I want instant gratification!

    – How will I pay for it?
    The same way as usual. I’m sure one of these dozen credit cards isn’t maxed out yet!

    – Where will I put it?
    Beats me … I’ll figure it out when I get it home!

    Minor sarcasm aside, I am suprised the solution to this illness isn’t another new pill. Or folks suing their local mall for their existance that allowed for such buying habits.

  23. Ken says:

    I think I’ve become a compulsive shopper, mainly due to the internet. I mainly buy guy things but lately in the past year or so, I’ve been purchasing things that makes me look and feel better. Cloth, Workout equipment, Tennis equipments, more cloth, personal care items, protein powers and lots of green vegetation to juice.

    I’ve picked up on this crazy and is in the process of stopping myself from future unnecessary purchases.

  24. battra92 says:

    I like going shopping without buying anything. Basically on my lunch breaks I check out gadgets and junk at Best Buy, browse the dollar store, check out books at B&N etc.

    I hardly ever buy anything for myself. Is this also a sickness?

  25. ahwannabe says:

    I wish they had a treatment program for compulsive dumpster divers.

  26. narf says:

    @ahwannabe: Injure yourself on something unsavory, and you’ll stop.

    Curbside and craigslist freebies are still game, however.

  27. SpearXXI says:

    One thing they do not mention is collecting video games. *shrug*

  28. jferrera says:

    Seeking compulsive shopper for documentary film w/ Danny Glover

    A recovering compulsive shopper is making a documentary film that raises awareness of the negative effects of compulsive shopping in America. He is making the film to get to the root causes behind the epidemic of compulsive shopping in this country, and to explore both the psychological and societal solutions for moving forward as a culture.

    The film has some amazing people in it, from Danny Glover and Howard Zinn to many everyday Americans.

    If you would like to share your story in the film to help raise awareness of the issue, please get in touch with us as soon as possible to give us some insight into your situation – your name, age & general location, along with some insight on the following: Does compulsive shopping hold your life back through financial obstacles such as debt? Has your shopping replaced more positive / wholesome activities you used to participate in? Has your shopping caused you depression or negative health effects? How are you affected by your compulsive shopping/shopoholism day-to-day?

    Thank you