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The Shopaholic Label Fits Both Sexes

Stanford research shows that one in 20 American adults can't control spending. The cause is unknown, but low self- esteem may be a factor.

October 15, 2006|Curtis L. Taylor | Newsday Staff Writer

Women aren't the only ones who shop until they drop.

Men can be just as compulsive when it comes to binge buying, according to research from the Stanford University School of Medicine.

But men tend to prefer such things as electronic equipment, tools, books and CDs, compared with the jewelry, perfume and designer apparel that women often favor.

Lead author Dr. Lorrin M. Koran, emeritus professor of psychiatry at Stanford University Medical Center, said that one in 20 American adults is unable to resist buying unneeded or unwanted goods.

"This is a serious problem that deserves attention," Koran said. "This is self-destructive behavior associated with bankruptcy, missing time at work, not meeting family responsibilities, or even suicide."

The cause of compulsive shopping is unknown, but treatment options include counseling. Some researchers say compulsive shopping may be related to low self-esteem. It affects an estimated 2% to 16% of the adult U.S. population.

The study, in the October issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, found that men were less likely than women to admit such behavior.

"It certainly is a problem in society," said Dr. Kenneth Skodnek, director of addiction services at Nassau University Medical Center. "Men tend to be more reticent with problems of weakness -- the male stereotypes of men being silent and strong no matter how much they are suffering. Women tend to be better communicators, asking for more help, engaging others when it comes to problems."

Skodnek said that in many ways, compulsive shopping is comparable to a gambling addiction.

"They get very excited with the anticipation and during the process of gambling," Skodnek said. "It gives them feelings that they really want to have. A compulsive shopper can be sad about it, but when they are shopping they feel great. A quick emotional fix."

Researchers randomly telephoned 2,513 adults in the spring and summer of 2004 asking about their buying attitudes, the consequences of their buying and their financial status. About 56% of those called responded.

Koran said 6% of women and 5.5% of men were labeled compulsive shoppers. Researchers used a standard screening method, the Compulsive Buying Scale, to determine whether a respondent met the criteria.

Those surveyed were more likely to have incomes of less than $50,000 and four times less likely to pay off credit card balances in full. Their average age was 39, but they often had started binge-buying in their late teens and early 20s.

Koran added that those identified in the study would need to be clinically examined to confirm the study findings.

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