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When ‘shop ‘til you drop’ turns into addiction

Do you like to do a little shopping when you’re feeling down? Does retail therapy help to buoy your spirits? Well, you may like to shop ‘til you drop, but sometimes excessive shopping can lead to financial — and marital — disaster. “Today” contributor, and psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz, of New York’s Presbyterian Hospital, offers some tips to help keep your shopping habits in check.

Do you repetitively shop for unneeded items? Do you shop impulsively and ring up huge credit card bills that you can’t afford? Do you get an incredible rush from shopping that you find yourself craving? If so, you may be a sufferer of compulsive shopping disorder.

While many people joke about “shopping ‘til you drop” and “I can’t resist a sale,” the compulsive shopper really does have an addiction. This is a true disorder which affects about eight percent of the U.S. population. Ninety percent of those affected are women. Compulsive-Shopping Disorder (CSD) is an obsessive-compulsive disorder like compulsive gambling or compulsive binge eating. In fact, people with other addictive behaviors may also suffer from CSD.

People with CSD may also suffer from anxiety and depression. They often shop in hopes it will reduce their tension or low mood and not only does this fail to work but they tend to feel worse due to the consequences of compulsive shopping. Many of these people have credit card debts they cannot possibly handle, legal problems including bankruptcy, destroyed marriages and ruined friendships as a result of lying about their compulsive spending.

They often shop for the same object over and over again, objects that they do not even use. They may even have emotional “blackouts” where they cannot remember buying the items.

There is a study from Stanford in the July issue of The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. The study by Dr. Lorrin Koran looked at the use of an anti depressant, which is a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, for compulsive-shopping disorder. In this initial study it appeared that drug was effective in reducing the symptoms of CSD. The drug also reduced the patient’s anxiety and depression.

THE SIGNS OF COMPULSIVE SHOPPING DISORDER:

1. Spending above your means

2. Buying large quantities of same item

3. Being impulsive

4. Feeling guilt and remorse

5. Deceiving loved ones

HERE ARE SOME TIPS ON COPING WITH COMPULSIVE SHOPPING DISORDER:

Shopping by catalog, on the Internet or on TV shopping channels is much too easy. Compulsive shoppers are able to shop in volume just by clicking on a computer or picking up the phone. It is far too tempting for a shopaholic. Make these methods completely off limits.

2. Make a list.

Before you go shopping make a list of what you need and buy only what is on the list.

3. Do not use credit cards.

Use only checks or cash. Credit cards lead to a lack of control and lots of debt. Only keep one credit card and use it only for true emergencies. Cut up your other credit cards. Only allow yourself to use cash or checks.

4. Get therapy.

You can look into group therapy or psychotherapy. There is group therapy for this problem, and often sharing your situation with others who suffer from the same disorder can be helpful.

If you truly have compulsive-shopping disorder you will likely not be able to control it on your own. Get a professional evaluation and consider treatment with therapy (to look at the underlying mood problem which may be fueling the addiction). Medication may help.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York’s Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.”

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