'Tis The Season To Shop 'Til You Drop

Oh, for the good old days when people would stop Christmas shopping when they ran out of money.


  • Have a preoccupation with shopping
  • Have low self-esteem; feel insecure
  • Shop to feel relief from pain, anxiety or depression
  • Shop to get a high or rush similar to alcoholics or drug addicts
  • Buy things they don’t need and can’t afford
  • Consistently buy more than they intended to (shoes in every color)
  • Can have emotional blackouts where they do not remember what they purchased
  • Shop alone to avoid potential embarrassment by shopping with others.
  • Hide things they have purchased (if family or friends have confronted them about their behavior)
  • Hoarding: closets or workbenches filled with unworn/unused items, some may still have price tags attached
  • Excessive gift buying to gain or secure love or approval
  • History of credit problems
  • Collection agencies hounding them
  • Experiences shame, remorse, or apprehension after a shopping spree
  • Relationship, social, work and/or educational problems
  • Legal problems

Compulsive shopping can occur in virtually any venue; high-end department stores, boutiques, consignment shops, thrift stores or garage sales. Let’s not forget the Internet.  Never before has compulsive shopping been so easy!  Income really has relatively little to do with the existence of compulsive buying disorder.  However, it may determine where you shop!

Diagnosis

There is much debate among professionals on how to classify compulsive shopping disorder.  Should it be considered an obsessive-compulsive disorder (hoarding), an impulse control disorder (like pathological gambling or kleptomania), a mood disorder (depression, bipolar disorder), an anxiety disorder, a personality disorder, or an addiction? Presently there is no specific diagnosis for omniomania in the DSM-IV.   Determining any underlying reasons for compulsive shopping is important in order to effectively treat the disorder. 

Ten Tips for Preventing Shopping Binges

  1. Make a shopping list and only buy what is on the list.
  2. Pay for purchases by cash, check, and debit card.
  3. Destroy all credit cards except one to be used for emergency only.
  4. Avoid discount warehouses. You can spend a lot of money saving money!
  5. Window shop only after stores have closed. If you do "look" during the day, leave your wallet at home.
  6. Cancel catalogs.
  7. Don’t watch TV shopping channels.
  8. Stay away online from shopping sites such as eBay and Amazon.com. These sites have a hypnotic pull for compulsive shoppers.
  9. Take someone shopping with you so you don’t go overboard. 
  10. Engage in an activity you can substitute for shopping: exercising, taking a bath, walking, doing something creative, calling a friend, volunteering, reading, etc.

If you still feel out of control, you probably are. Get treatment.

Treatment/Prognosis

The good news is that most compulsive shoppers are willing to admit their shopping is problematic, especially related to finances and relationships. Over 90% of compulsive shoppers report that they have attempted to resist urges to impulsively buy, but their attempts were often unsuccessful. The bad news is that treating compulsive spending can be difficult.  It is similar to treating an eating disorder.  While you can live without alcohol and recreational drugs, you cannot live without food.  Similarly, to exist in modern society you must buy things, ergo you must shop.

Compulsive shopping does appear to respond to a range of treatment, specially used in conjunction with each other:

  • medications: SSRI antidepressant- citalopram; Alzheimer's medication- memantine
  • self help books
  • self help groups (Debtors Anonymous)
  • financial counseling (in extreme cases financial conservatorship)
  • cognitive-behavioral therapy (a psychiatric treatment that helps individuals understand the thoughts and feelings that influence their behavior)

The Consequences of a Compulsive Shopping Disorder

The long term consequences of oniomania can be devastating.  Marriages, partnerships, families and friendships can be destroyed.  Compulsive buyers may start to experience difficulties in their work environment.  Financial consequences include ruined credit histories/scores, defaulted loans, and sometimes inevitable financial bankruptcy.  The stress related to this disorder can lead to health problems: heart disease, GI problems, and immune system disorders.   It can also cause or exacerbate existing mental illness.  Some sufferers become so embarrassed or so despondent they commit suicide.  Additionally, people with a shopping addiction are highly susceptible to other addictions—especially drugs/alcohol.

Compulsive spending can also lead to significant legal problems, specifically embezzlement or theft arrests, convictions, and jail or prison time.  Take the case of Betty Jean Barachie of Kunkletown, Pa.  Over a period of 8 years Barachie embezzled $1.5 million dollars from the credit union she worked at as a branch manager.  She used the money to buy (among other things) hundreds of pairs of shoes, more than 3,000 books, 58 coats, 16 chain saws and a $25,000 John Deere tractor.  Most of the items she bought sat piled in her house unused with the price tags still on them. She was sentenced to 27 months in prison. And when there is absolutely no way to buy a coveted item, stealing the item can easily become the only method to obtain the object of desire. 

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