Psychological Self-Help

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history has been of feeling guilty and sad after overspending. The
compulsive shopper feels upset, angry and terribly deprived if they
can't buy (e.g. insufficient funds) what they want. Unfortunately, after
the momentary gratification of buying, they soon feel guilt, sadness, or
resentment of the habit, until the urge reappears in a few days. They
are willing (compelled is more accurate) to go into debt with no idea
how to pay for the purchase. Several studies have found 5% to 10% of
the American population are compulsive buyers and another 15% or so
are overspenders. Indeed, that's about 60 million struggling with
overspending and only 1/3 of Americans are saving anything for
retirement. We'd rather buy a new car now than save for our children's
education, even though we'd agree that an education is much more
important than driving a new car (those long-range goals are easily
Depression tends to be high among compulsive shoppers; thus,
antidepressant medication is sometimes helpful... and shopping may
serve the addict as a self-medication for sadness. Also, because
compulsive shoppers often buy things that enhance their image (e.g.
clothes or jewelry for the woman or sports equipment, a car, or a
motorcycle for the guy), it is thought that buying is often intended to
build our sagging self-esteem. It also seems obvious, but I don't know
of research supporting this, that over-spending might be a way to "get
something from" an unsupportive partner's bank account or to "get
back at" a resented partner. What research does show is that habitual
shoppers also have higher rates of anxiety, eating disorders,
substance abuse, and poor impulse control. Overspending disorders
are described in detail by Mellan (1997), Arenson (1991), Coleman &
Hull-Mast (1995), and others. 
The urge to go shopping tends to occur every few days or every
week or so. The urge only lasts for about an hour but, in an addict, the
urge can be resisted only about one fourth of the time. Usually the
compulsive shopper has no shopping list prepared in advance, only an
awareness of their favorite departments. Some, however, are bargain
shoppers. The fact is though that, about half the time, they never use
their purchase, leaving it packaged, returning it, or disposing of it.
What is accumulated are large debts, often several thousand dollars on
credit cards. It is not unusual for an addicted spender to spend half
the total family income on these shopping sprees. 
Clearly an out of control spender needs therapy; they can't stop
themselves, but what kind of therapy is best is still unknown (one
small study suggests insight therapy is not very effective). For some,
anti-depressive medication will be helpful (McElroy, 1998). There are
( groups in the US). Another Web
site also provides a DA bibliography and more information about
getting out of debt: Debtors Anonymous Information
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