Background: Compulsive buying is a probably common but little studied disorder. To further characterize this syndrome, the authors assessed 20 compulsive buyers.
Method: Twenty consecutive psychiatric patients with problematic buying behavior characterized as (1) uncontrollable; (2) markedly distressing, time-consuming, and/or resulting in family, social, vocational, and/or financial difficulties; and (3) not occurring only in the context of hypomanic or manic symptoms were evaluated with structured diagnostic interviews. Family histories of psychiatric disorders and patients' responses to psychological and biological treatments were also assessed.
Results: Nineteen (95%) of the compulsive buyers studied had lifetime diagnoses of major mood disorders. Sixteen (80%) had lifetime diagnoses of anxiety disorders, 8 (40%) had impulse control disorders, and 7 (35%) had eating disorders. First-degree relatives displayed a high prevalence of mood disorders. Nine (69%) of 13 patients receiving thymoleptics at the time of compulsive buying episodes reported reduction or remission of their buying symptoms.
Conclusion: Compulsive buying may cause significant psychological, interpersonal, and financial difficulties; may co-occur with other psychiatric disorders; may be treatable; and, thus, should be further studied as a mental disorder in its own right. To this end, preliminary operational criteria for its diagnosis are proposed.