Holidays Pose Serious Problems for Compulsive Shoppers

HOUSTON (Nov. 16, 2009) – Sale! Buy One Get One Free! For every $100 you spend, get $25 off!

With a bombardment of promotional sales and the colorful window displays, you can tell the holiday season is in full swing.

To many, these signs signify great ways to save money for finding the perfect gift for friends and family.

But to some, the signs and window displays are a dangerous enticement, tempting them to buy for all the wrong reasons. And they do. Compulsive shoppers buy anything — from 20 winter coats to expensive jewelry — whether they need the item or not. Buying things is their drug of choice.

While compulsive shopping is not listed as an official disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s catalog, it is similar to other addictions people might face today, such as gambling.

“Compulsive shoppers are not shopping for a need, or a specific item,” said Britta Ostermeyer, MD, chief of psychiatry, Ben Taub General Hospital and Harris County Hospital District. “They are shopping because they’re unhappy, and spending money makes them feel better.”

Compulsive shoppers are truly addicted to purchasing things, and with the holidays and droves of people at the mall, the enticement can put them at risk for a serious spending spree.

“When a compulsive shopper buys things, it is the same reaction as a person taking drugs. They experience a high while purchasing the items, but may be full of regret after the purchase is made,” Ostermeyer said.

This retail addiction not only hurts personal and family finances, but relationships.

Usually, compulsive shoppers try to hide their behavior and pretend it doesn’t exist. But reality sets in once the credit card bills arrive.

“While there are some wealthy people who can afford these shopping binges, there are others that cannot,” Ostermeyer said. “If this behavior continues, it can be detrimental — emotionally and economically — to the family.”

So what can a compulsive shopper do during the tempting holiday season?

“They have to make it hard to spend money — like shred all their credit cards,” Ostermeyer said. “Make a list of the necessary items and stick to it.”

But to really get past the problem, a compulsive shopper has to admit to having a problem and seek professional help. Ostermeyer suggests finding other avenues to express themselves such as participating in a cooking class or finding a hobby.

© Harris Health | 713-634-1000