Thursday, January 29, 2009

April Lane Benson, psychologist and author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop, talks about whether compulsive buying is an actual psychiatric disease.


April Lane Benson

Comments [36]

Mara from East Coast

Why do people who treat addiction always come across as such earnest do-gooders and boringly preachy types? I have no doubt that out-of-control spending is devastating, but we need a better system/approach/model to treat compulsive behavior/addiction: one that transcends "12-steps", "interventions" and this "I know what's good for you" mentality.

Feb. 10 2009 01:15 PM

rem, that was basically my point.

Calling it an addiction/disease is a double-edged sword - as other posters here have testified, people who believe they have a "disease" someimes avoid taking personal responsibility.

As #32 wrote:

"While I do believe there is some part of it she can't control, once her behaviors were accepted & treated as a disease, she used that diagnosis as an excuse to do whatever she wants and to not get better (because as a disease it is out of her control & therefore she shouldn't be held accountable)."

Jan. 29 2009 02:02 PM
Susan Buttros from Chester, NJ

There is a twelve step program called DEBTORS ANONYMOUS which addresses this problem among others. Compulsive shopping is one of the addictions which is dealt with at DA meetings. Under-earning, Compulsive Shopping, and Over-spending which can lead to, and often ends up destroying many marriages and individual lives, is a serious problem. Bankruptcy and divorce are just two of the terrible things which can result from these problems. By using the Twelve Steps, and many other tools available from DA, people can turn their lives around. Perhaps Brian can have a guest from the DA Program as a follow up to today's feature. I think it would be a public service to inform listeners about an organization which is addressing this very serious problem. Having it become part of the DSM is a good thing. Having people know that there is somewhere to turn when they are in crisis, could change lives. There is a web site DA NY NJ PA where people can get information and find out how to locate a meeting. With the economy in such bad shape, I would imagine that many moe people are experiencing the hardships of ever increasing debt, but not knowing where to turn to get help. DA is free. Anyone can attend a meeting and see if it might be a place that will help.

Jan. 29 2009 11:20 AM
bob from NYC

so what else? what else we are addicted to? i'm addicted to listen to WNYC from 10AM to 3PM. I AM ADDICTED to this. i HAVE to listen, understand, suck all the information even if i'm not interested in a topic. how serious is this? serious enough i got already fired from two jobs. now, instead of looking for a new job i'm listening to mr. lehrer's program. even more i have to focus on whats in this radio. usually i was able to listen and do other things the same time and usually i'm a quite good multitasker. not with this. JUST CANNOT.
this comment is not a joke and not a complain. i just want to know if there are other people addicted to RADIO. e

Jan. 29 2009 11:18 AM
j from new york

There is a major difference in degrees between what people are referring to with the term "shopaholic" & what the DSM means. My mother is a compulsive shopper and residential hoarder, & I can attest to the fact that it ruins peoples lives.
It has impaired her relationships with friends & family, made her home a dangerous place (because she won't allow anyone in to make repairs) & had negative financial effects.
While I do believe there is some part of it she can't control, once her behaviors were accepted & treated as a disease, she used that diagnosis as an excuse to do whatever she wants and to not get better (because as a disease it is out of her control & therefore she shouldn't be held accountable).

Jan. 29 2009 11:11 AM
B Marx from Downtown

Please, Dear fellow citizens, visit this site:

and go to the left and click Impact on Oceans, meander around, think, while you shop, bring your own bags, give the children have a chance to clean up the mess we're leaving them. We have many international catastrophes in the making.

Jan. 29 2009 11:10 AM
rem from manhattan


I agree with you that we are force-fed consumption advertising. However, it is still up to us to withstand the onslaught of ads. I watch TV, listen to the radio, and constantly see ads. And guess what, I don't buy watches, cars, TVs, etc. because of will power (and also I can't afford it). We can't blame the advertisers, it's always blaming someone else. I realize the marketers can have a detrimental effect on children, but those of us who are adults have to control ourselves.

Jan. 29 2009 11:06 AM
Brian from Forest Hills

WHY INCLUDE IT IN THE DSM? So mental health professionals can get insurance companies to pay!!! The DSM is used more by mental health professionals for insurance than anything else.

Jan. 29 2009 11:00 AM
MMN from Midtown Manhattan

One thing I have noticed every time I step out of my apartment is that everywhere I look is an opportunity beconing me to spend money. In fact, just going out for a change of scenery I have to spend money to do ANYTHING. I resist all the time. I am bombarded with advertisements and store fronts at every step. There is hardly a place I can go that does not require my purse.

Jan. 29 2009 10:59 AM
Susan from Summit, NJ

These tricks work for me:
If I want to buy something that is not a necessity, I put it on a list and tell myself, "you can buy it in 2 weeks." Whenm I go to the list later, I usually can't remember why I wanted it.

Another, at the check out stand I sort my items by "need to have" and "want to have" then act accordingly.

Jan. 29 2009 10:59 AM
annika from astoria

I used to work for a very wealthy family and the mom probably spent hundreds or thousands of dollars a week on clothes and accessories for her kids, dog and herself. I thought it was just a normal thing for rich people to do. I doubt she's lived a day without buying at least a couple high-end things. Looking back though, I think it rubbed off on me a little. Spending so much time around this kind of lifestyle, I found myself shopping online, even getting clothes I didn't really need. Now that the economy's bad, I'm in school, not working there anymore, I'm completely as frugal as I ever was.

Jan. 29 2009 10:58 AM
Dan from Washington Heights, NYC

You know a Shopping pill would be perfect, But only if it made you obesse !

Jan. 29 2009 10:58 AM
Leonore from Stuyvesant Town

It's another compulsive behavior that serves to manage anxiety. Nothing unique about shopping - same as drinking, masturbation, playing endless solitaire on the computer. Why proliferate the diagnoses instead of explaining anxiety to people?
(I'm a clinical psychologist)

Jan. 29 2009 10:57 AM
Craig from New York, NY

I hope Dr. Benson is not trying to excuse the true excesses of people such as Thain and Maddof under the umbrella of disease. I realize that this can be a true addiction, but I resent her references here in this discussion.

Jan. 29 2009 10:56 AM
Justin from Chelsea

Is there a condition characterised by compulsive browsing?

Jan. 29 2009 10:54 AM
Theresa from Westchester

My husband is a browse-a-holic. He's on ebay CONSTANTLY! He doesn't buy much, but he is ALWAYS cruising for deals, and avoiding family time and other activities as a result.

Jan. 29 2009 10:54 AM
lea from astoria

Compulsive shopping is a disease as dangerous and destructive as alcoholism. It gives the person an escape from emotional issues (just like drugs and alcohol). Shopping is a temporary high to problems that need deeper resolution. I wonder what the statistics are in terms of alcoholism running in the families of shopaholics

Jan. 29 2009 10:54 AM
Eric from B'klyn

there is a 12 step program for recovering shopping compulsives. it is a complex compulsion and manifests in a variety of behaviors

Jan. 29 2009 10:54 AM
Ted from out of state

My mother is both a shopaholic and a residential hoarder. The two together are disastrous; is there typically a relationship between the two?

Jan. 29 2009 10:54 AM
Catherine from Rockville Centre

Hi Brian-

I hope you'll mention Debtors Anonymous. It's a Twelve Step program that helps people who have all sorts of addictive behaviors around money. I think many so-called shopaholics might really benefit from attending DA. There are lots of meetings in the city and the area.

Jan. 29 2009 10:53 AM
Mike from Brooklyn

ITS NOT A DISEASE. Cancer is a disease. Its called lack of self control.

Jan. 29 2009 10:53 AM

#2, Sam,
Right on.

Isn't the DSM the manual that once claimed homosexuality is a disease? Why do we listen to the DSM? What are THEY selling?

That's not to take away from a real problem with overdone consumerism in this country. American consumers are force-fed consumption advertising. And shopping, thanks to the Internet, is 24/7.

But a disease? More like a mass mania.

With any luck, the corrupt psychiatrists will get together with the corrupt pharma companies, and market a drug for this.

Oy, gevalt.

Jan. 29 2009 10:53 AM
Owen from Rochester

To me, the most poignant American tale of shopaholism is that of Mary Todd Lincoln, who was pilloried for her out-of-control sprees during the war. Maybe we could call this "Mary Todd's Disease," to put a sympathetic face on it.

Jan. 29 2009 10:52 AM
Mike from Brooklyn

Boo hoo

More overprivalaged people with a lack of self control.

Jan. 29 2009 10:52 AM
bernard joseph from brooklyn

c'mon brian, are you kidding me with this segment? let lopate take on this kind of this because lee sander didn't show up? i just aggressively turned my radio off.

Jan. 29 2009 10:52 AM
Hans from Brooklyn

Why would this be added to the DSM? How is it different from other compulsions like gambling?

Jan. 29 2009 10:51 AM
Dan from Washington Heights, NYC

Didn't these same 'Doctors' label being gay a disease in the 50's??

Jan. 29 2009 10:51 AM
Alex from Brooklyn

They covered shopaholics on A&E's "Addiction" a couple years ago. I had thought it was a joke until I saw that show and how it ruined some people's lives.

Jan. 29 2009 10:50 AM
Johnny S from NJ

AY! There is no such thing as shopahol! Why not call it a shopping addiction!

Jan. 29 2009 10:50 AM
michelle from brooklyn

I prefer the term "Retail Therapy".

Jan. 29 2009 10:49 AM
RLewis from The Bowery

Buy, sure, shop all ya want. but do it with cash, not plastic. Shopping is not the problem, debt is. We're in a deleveraging cycle cuz we spent more than we had, so rather than a lil pain here, a lil pain there, we have to suck up all the pain in a big ole recession. We broke it; we bought it. Wait, where have a heard that? Now, go pay your bills.

Jan. 29 2009 10:33 AM
Gianni Lovato from Huntington,NY

Allow me to suggest bartering as a "two-for-the-price-of-one" alternative to what can easily become a disastrous addiction.
You get to
A)save lots of bucks
B)you might even meet some very nice folks (or at least interesting ones)

Jan. 29 2009 10:28 AM
Samuel from NYC

How 'bout we realize that life is not about shopping. If someone needs something the buy it.
How 'bout we don't just buy for the sake of buying?

Jan. 29 2009 10:09 AM
Marsha from Upper West Side

How about having people call in to report how they are helping local businesses stay afloat by shopping? With all this talk about not shopping many of us on the upper west side will be out of work.

Jan. 29 2009 10:06 AM
Samuel from NYC

Its not a disease. Its a major problem but not a disease. Americans have been force fed advertising in the most obvious and inconspicuous ways. Basically our whole government has turned into one big advertising firm for corporate America. The results are a society that feels better when they shop and buy something they don't need. We are a consuming nation. No wonder a large percentage of our population is over weight. What we are really good at is consuming things now a days.
So please don't call it a disease.

Jan. 29 2009 09:52 AM
rylee from nyc

I agree it is a disease. Bi-polar mental illness runs in our family. Especially among the women. The shopaholic tendency is an attempt at self medication. The high doesn't last long and even has a kickback effect--depression about lack of control and expenses we cannot afford. Sometimes I buy with a vision of creating a "different life"--eg different dishes, curtains, a rug, clothes different spices in my cabinet, when the change that is required is inside--but how do we get there?

Jan. 29 2009 08:42 AM

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