More than 1 in 20 adults nationwide suffer from compulsive buying, according to a telephone survey of 2500 adults. And contrary to popular opinion, "compulsive buying appears to be almost as common in men as in women," according to Lorrin M. Koran, MD, first author of a recently published prevalence study of compulsive buying behavior in the United States.1 Six percent of women and 5.5% of men in the study reported symptoms considered to be consistent with compulsive buying disorder.
These findings are significant because, as documented in previous research, a considerable amount of suffering and impairment may be associated with compulsive shopping. In addition to serious financial problems, compulsive shoppers may suffer from marked distress, and "preliminary evidence suggests that compulsive buyers suffer from abnormally high levels of depression and anxiety . . . and experience higher rates of comorbid mood and anxiety disorders than comparison groups," the study in the October issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry pointed out.
For the study, Koran and colleagues conducted a random sample, national household telephone survey in which trained laypersons interviewed 2513 adults using the clinically validated Compulsive Buying Scale (CBS) embedded in a computerized structured interview. The researchers found a point prevalence of compulsive buying of 5.8% in the survey.
According to Koran, who is emeritus professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University in California, compulsive buying can be classified in the DSM-IV category of impulse control disorder not otherwise specified, although it is not actually mentioned in DSM-IV. Proposed diagnostic criteria include being frequently preoccupied with buying or subject to irresistible, intrusive, and/or senseless impulses to buy; frequently buying unneeded items or more than can be afforded; shopping for periods longer than intended; and experiencing adverse consequences, such as marked distress, impaired social or occupational functioning, and/or financial problems.2
"Compulsive shoppers are actively acquiring the items, but they don't care about them after they have them," Koran told Psychiatric Times. "Women will hang new clothes in the closet, yet never take them out of the bag and never take off the tags. Men will leave the CDs wrapped in plastic and never listen to them." According to earlier research, men tend to buy electronic gadgets, tools, books, and compact discs, while women tend to buy clothes, makeup, craft items, and objects for the home.
In the prevalence study, compulsive buying behavior was associated with substantial financial adverse effects in every income group, Koran added. Compared with other respondents, compulsive buyers were more likely to have their credit cards within $500 and $100 of their credit limit and were 4 times as likely to "very often" or "often" make the minimum payment on credit card balances. Compulsive buyers also were younger and more likely to have reported incomes under $50,000.
Compulsive buying is "not a trivial disorder in its own right," Koran said. Adverse consequences have included bankruptcy, family conflict, divorce, illegal activities, and suicide attempts.1