Compulsive shopping may be hereditary - Quad-Cities Online: Iowa

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Compulsive shopping may be hereditary

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Posted: Thursday, August 13, 1998 12:00 am

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- People who are addicted to shopping are likely to be women and they often have close relatives who suffers from compulsive buying, a University of Iowa psychiatrist says.

Many people like to shop, but what sets compulsive buyers apart is their excessive and inappropriate shopping and spending behaviors, which negatively affects their lives, Donald Black said.

They might experience severe emotional distress or marriage, financial and legal problems. It is not unusual for compulsive shoppers to go bankrupt, Black added.

Black is a University of Iowa professor of psychiatry. The American Journal of Psychiatry published Black's findings on the compulsive shopping family connection in the journal's July issue.

Those who suffer from compulsive shopping have an uncontrollable need to buy something. The purchase is their fix.

``The tension builds and builds until the compulsive shopper must make a purchase, then they feel better,'' Black said.

The Iowa researcher, specializing in obsessive-compulsive behavior, found that 10 percent of the compulsive shoppers' close relatives suffer the same problem. In comparison, only 2 to 3 percent of the entire population has the compulsive shopping condition.

Black said that people may inherit a predisposition for poor impulse control. In women, who account for 80 to 90 percent of compulsive buyers, the lack of control becomes expressed in their shopping habits.

``I could walk into about any office and find someone (who is a compulsive shopper),'' Black said. ``It's that prevalent of a problem.''

But not everyone agrees. Coral Ridge Mall shopper Ellen Doese said she knew of no one she would classify as compulsive, including herself.

``When I go shopping it is to get something specific,'' said the Fairbank resident.

Marvin Morris of Newton, who was shopping with his boys and wife Wednesday at Coral Ridge, questioned the female focus. He said he was the compulsive one in the family.

``I think men are more compulsive than woman who tend to shop around,'' Morris said. ``Whereas, men just go out and buy.''

Black's research showed otherwise. Black called the addictive shopping condition the female equivalent of compulsive gambling, which tends to affect more men. Both disorders tend to be chronic, lifelong and difficult to treat.

Compulsive shopping tendencies usually surface during the late teens or early 20s.

In his study, Black also found that 20 percent of compulsive shoppers' relatives were alcoholics, compared to 4 percent of the relatives of the comparison subjects. Eighteen percent of compulsive shoppers experienced depression, compared to 7 percent in the comparison group. And, 7 percent of the compulsive buyers' relatives have a drug-use problem, while only 1 percent do in the control group.

Between 1994 and 1997, Black studied 33 compulsive shoppers and 22 people who reflected the general Iowa population. He interviewed the volunteers about their psychiatric history and that of close relatives. He also asked the compulsive shoppers to describe their relatives' shopping habits, including what they bought and how much time they spent shopping.

Black plans to continue studying compulsive shopping and eventually wants to write a book on the subject.

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