Is he a compulsive shopper?

Women are usually the ones who get a bad rap for shopping too much. But men can be just as bad. Here’s how to help your partner end their compulsive shopping

Is he a compulsive shopper?

Source: Best Health Magazine, December 2011

Does your partner come home every few days with yet another digital tablet, pair of jeans or gizmo he doesn’t need and can’t afford? If so, it’s possible he has a problem with compulsive buying‘a version of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) where a person craves buying and gets a short-lived high from it.

Often the disorder is associated with women who have a thing for clothing, shoes or jewellery. But a 2006 study from Stanford University found 5.5 percent of men shop compulsively‘just slightly fewer than women, six percent of whom have a problem. The emotions behind uncontrolled shopping are the same, but the major gender difference is that men usually opt for electronic devices, automotive and hardware products, and tools.

According to Dr. Lorrin Koran, the study’s author and a professor emeritus of psychiatry at Stanford, the condition is similar to compulsive gambling or eating. ‘People do it to get away from a negative mood state.’ Compulsive shoppers also buy to reward themselves for an accomplishment’but the pleasant buzz wears off and can quickly turn to guilt.

How you can help him

If your guy buys stuff he never uses, shops more than he can afford to, and misses family or other commitments to shop online, he’s got a problem. If he’s worried about it or your family is suffering’whether financially or because he has no time for you’he needs help.

To encourage change, Dr. Peggy Richter, director of the Clinic for OCD and Related Disorders at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, suggests calmly discussing whether his buying habits should be a cause for concern. Without arguing, see if he would agree to seek help.

Compulsive buying is not a formally defined mental disorder, but professionals have agreed on a set of criteria, such as a loss of control and subsequent feelings of regret, for this and other compulsive problems. The most common treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy, which helps people identify dysfunctional attitudes and beliefs, and modify their behaviour; it’s also commonly used to treat anxiety disorders. Some studies show antidepressants are effective, but other evidence suggests they may not be of any help in treating the condition.

He could also join Debtors Anonymous, which offers peer support over the telephone for anyone with personal problems linked to debt or overspending, or read a self-help book (Koran recommends To Buy or Not to Buy by April Lane Benson). Most therapists and self-driven programs suggest safe shopping practices: Never shop alone; avoid stores when you’re feeling down; cut up your credit cards; and only purchase items from a list. Richter says she encourages her patients to fill the shopping gap by scheduling time for non-shopping-related activities such as playing a sport or volunteering.

While pop culture terms like ‘shopaholic’ can make light of this condition, it can be quite serious. ‘People feel compulsive urges to buy, and they can’t rein it in,’ says Richter. ‘I’ve treated people who have lost everything; it’s frightening.’

This article was originally titled "Is he a compulsive shopper?" in the December 2011 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!