Seasonal advertisements, ornaments and window displays, and city
sidewalks dressed in holiday style-the Spirit of Giving can cause
some to get carried away in buying for their Christmas list. For the
compulsive shopper, however, the need to buy occurs year-round and
can bring disastrous financial and emotional consequences.
"Compulsive buying can lead to financial difficulties and marital
and family stress," says Dr, Donald Black, professor of psychiatry at
the University of Iowa College of Medicine and a staff physician at
UI Hospitals and Clinics,
Compulsive buying is an overwhelming urge to purchase something
for oneself or others. The items are usually small, such as clothing,
jewelry, or compact discs. Black says most compulsive shoppers feel a
sense of pleasure or importance about their shopping and that it
distracts them from their everyday concerns. However, the feeling is
usually only temporary,
"In a way, it's like buyer's remorse. The shopper feels guilty, He
or she has spent money on something they didn't want or need or that
no one had asked for. Sometimes the stuff is given away or it just
ends up in the closet, never taken out of the box," Black says. He
adds that some compulsive shoppers will often "make deals" with
themselves to curb the level of their buying.
The holiday season is particularly difficult for the compulsive
shopper. "With Christmas and birthdays, you're likely to see an
increase in spending by these people," Black says. "They have an
elevated level of buying year-round, but during the holidays it's
Although the compulsive shopper realizes what they are doing and
understands the financial burden they may face, the urge to shop is
uncontrollable. "They enjoy it and often fantasize about shopping,"
Black says. "Once they're in the store, their senses are heightened
by the colors and textures, as well as other people in the store."
Researchers are not sure exactly what causes compulsive buying.
"It's attracted little attention in psychiatric literature, but it
seems that people who are compulsive shoppers also experience other
disorders, such as pathologic gambling or impulsive sexual activity,"
Black says. "It's something that the person has had for an extended
period of time, not just an occasional occurrence."
Black says several things can help the compulsive shopper,
particularly during the holiday rush, "Shopping with someone is a
good idea, for it can reduce impulsive behavior. Also, leaving the
credit cards at home and paying for items with cash reduces the
financial risks," Black says counseling and support groups may help,
If you or someone you know experiences symptoms of compulsive
buying, see your doctor or psychiatrist.