Compulsive buying is hazardous to your health
An estimated 17 million adults in the United States suffer from the “gotta have it” syndrome known as compulsive buying, according to a Stanford University study. This overwhelming drive to accumulate things can not only result in devastating financial ruin, it can also be hazardous to your health.
In these current difficult economic times, many people are experiencing physical, emotional, and mental consequences of their financial troubles. For compulsive buyers, these consequences are enhanced. According to survey results published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, compulsive buyers suffer from exaggerated distress, high levels of depression, and “experience higher rates of comorbid mood and anxiety disorders than comparison groups.”
Compulsive buyers are also more prone to suicide and illegal activities (e.g., shoplifting, robbery), skin picking, compulsive gambling, and trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling), and are more likely to be involved in divorce and family conflicts because of their buying activities. Research indicates that the disorder tends to run in families.
If you think women are far more likely to be compulsive buyers, think again. The survey results indicate that compulsive buying disorder is about even between the sexes: it affects 6 percent of women and 5.5 percent of men. Signs of compulsive buying disorder are acquiring items you don’t need and don’t care about after you have purchased them, frequently going shopping for longer periods than you intend (with adverse consequences), and frequently buying items you can’t afford. For example, it is common for compulsive buyers to never remove the wrapping from their purchases, to hang clothes in the closet without ever wearing them, and to store items in closets, attics, and garages without taking them out of the shopping bags.
The World Psychiatry journal reports that compulsive buying disorder usually develops during late adolescence or the early twenties, which often coincides with the time individuals get their first credit card. Compulsive buyers report that shopping gives them a high and can even mimic a “sexual feeling.” Unfortunately, the good feelings don’t last, and shortly after the purchases are made, compulsive buyers feel let down and disappointed.
Compulsive buyers can find help from organizations such as Debtors Anonymous or from counselors, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists who work with individuals who suffer with this disorder. Financial counselors also should be consulted.
Black DW. World Psychiatry 2007 Feb; 6(1): 14-18.
Koran LM, et al. Am J Psychiatry 2006; 163:1806-12.
Stanford University press release, September 30, 2006.