S(erotonin) is for Shopping

shopping.jpgBaton Rouge, local time 10:45pm. Exactly 1 hour and 15minutes until Black Friday deals hit the stores around town… I have a belly full of turkey and corn-bread dressing, and I’m about to go shopping!
Doorbusters, Holiday sales, 50% off, Buy-one-get-one-free, FREE (with a new 2-year contract of course)… If these words get your heart racing and the endorphins flowing, perhaps we should take a look at a rather obscure phenomenon known as Oniomania – better known as compulsive buying.

Is there really such a thing as an addiction to buying? Oniomania is characterized by repetitive compulsive and excessive misappropriated buying. According to one set of researchers who presented at the International Society on Brain and Behaviour in Thessaloniki, Greece in the winter of 2007, compulsive buying behavior causes marked distress, interferes with social functioning, and often results in financial problems.

According to McElroy and colleagues, compulsive buying is characterized by both abnormal mental processes and physical/social behaviors. In the clinical setting, compulsive buying falls in with other impulse control disorders, disorders marked by an “inability to resist an impulse, drive or temptation to perform an act that is harmful to the person or others.” Biological researchers have debated the similarity of compulsive buying to other disorder including OCD, mood and anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug addiction.

According to Donald Black at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Iowa College of Medicine, compulsive buying disorder has been estimated to affect from 2 to 8% of the general adult population in the US – 80 to 95% of those affected being (you guessed it…) female. The primarily female population affected by this disorder often demonstrate symptoms of other disorder, including mood, anxiety, substance use and eating disorders. One group of researchers found a close relationship between binge eating and compulsive buying (Faber, 1995). Both disorders appear at the surface very similar – indulgence in the compulsive behavior brings about high emotion, empowerment, and short term gratification, but soon thereafter feelings of regret and guilt, if not negative physical consequences. These disorder affect individuals who typically rate high in depression and low in self-esteem. Individuals with compulsive buying disorder tend to appear in families with histories of major depression, alcohol or substance abuse, and/or anxiety disorders.

Do you feel overly preoccupied with shopping and spending?

Do you ever feel that your shopping behaviour is excessive, inappropriate or uncontrolled?

Have your shopping desires, urges, fantasies or behaviours ever been overly time consuming, caused you to feel upset or guilty, or led to various problems in your life (e.g. financial or legal problems, relationship loss)?

Individuals addicted to shopping may be able to seek help, but there is little consensus as to which treatment option is the most effective – group psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, self-help books, support groups, and even treatment with antidepressants (serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and mood stabilizers have been used to help Oniomaniacs. First things first, if you suspect that yourself or one of your family members may suffer from compulsive buying disorder, a visit to a mental health professional is in order, not a visit to the bank or a financial advisor. Treating the symptoms is not the same as getting at their biological and/or cognitive roots.

So, who’s up for shopping? It’s almost midnight! I’m off!

McElroy SL, Keck Jr PE, Pope Jr HG, et al. Compulsive buying: a report of 20 cases. J Clin Psychiatry 1994; 55 (6): 242-8

Faber RJ, Christenson GA, De Zwaan M, et al. Two forms of compulsive consumption: comorbidity of compulsive buying and binge eating. J Consum Res 1995; 22: 296-394

Black, D.W. Compulsive Buying Disorder Definition, Assessment, Epidemiology and Clinical Management. CNS Drugs 2001; 15 (1): 17-27