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What is Compulsive Shopping Disorder?

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Updated June 18, 2014

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Question: What is Compulsive Shopping Disorder?

Although it's not officially described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), it has been suggested that compulsive shopping disorder, also known as compulsive buying disorder, is a type of impulse control disorder.

Answer:

The characteristics of compulsive shopping disorder include:

  • Preoccupation with shopping for unneeded items.

  • Spending a great deal of time doing research on coveted items and/or shopping for unneeded items.

  • Difficulty resisting the purchase of unneeded items.

  • Financial difficulties because of uncontrolled shopping.

  • Problems at work, school or home because of uncontrolled shopping.

Research has shown that compulsive shopping behavior is often accompanied by depression, anxiety and other negative emotions. Indeed, people affected by compulsive shopping disorder often report an uncomfortable tension that is relieved -- at least temporarily -- by shopping.

Despite this temporary relief, many people with compulsive shopping disorder feel disappointed with themselves and depressed about their apparent lack of control over their behavior.

Common items purchased include clothes, shoes, jewelry and household items (e.g. containers, dishes etc), with many compulsive shoppers unable to resist items on sale, in particular.

Most people who are affected by compulsive shopping disorder prefer to shop alone rather than subject themselves to potential embarrassment by shopping with others.

Who is Affected by Compulsive Shopping Disorder?

It has been estimated that compulsive shopping affects around 6% of the population in the United States. Females are 9 times more likely to be affected than males. Most cases of compulsive shopping begin in early adulthood and it is rare for this disorder to begin after age 30.

Problems with mood, such as major depressive disorder, are often common in compulsive shopping, as are the presence of other forms of impulse control disorders, such skin-picking or hair-pulling. Mental health professionals making a diagnosis of compulsive shopping disorder need to be careful to distinguish between compulsive shopping and the shopping sprees that can sometimes accompany mania in bipolar disorder.

Treatment of Compulsive Shopping Disorder

Although research findings have been mixed, there is some evidence that compulsive shopping disorder responds to treatment with selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. There is also evidence that cognitive behavioral techniques may also be effective in reducing symptoms in many compulsive shoppers, although more research is necessary to determine what types of therapy are effective for whom.

Sources:

Aboujaoude, E. "A 1-year naturalistic follow-up of patients with compulsive shopping disorder". Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 2003 64: 946-950.

Black. D.W.. "A review of compulsive buying disorder". World Psychiatry 2007 6: 14-18.

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