Compulsive shopping study to research mysterious illness


January 2, 2003
Blog Entry, Health

For some, the holiday season brings an annual rite that may feel like “compulsive shopping,” but for others, compulsive shopping is a year-round illness that seriously interferes with daily life. People with a compulsive shopping disorder often are unable to think about anything other than shopping and can’t control the impulse to purchase even useless or unwanted items. Stanford University Medical Center is continuing a multi-year clinical trial on a medication that may curb this irresistible urge. From Stanford University Medical Center :COMPULSIVE SHOPPING RESEARCH AT STANFORD SEEKS TO TREAT MYSTERIOUS DISORDERS

For some, the holiday season brings an annual rite that may feel like “compulsive shopping,” but for others, compulsive shopping is a year-round illness that seriously interferes with daily life. People with a compulsive shopping disorder often are unable to think about anything other than shopping and can’t control the impulse to purchase even useless or unwanted items. Stanford University Medical Center is continuing a multi-year clinical trial on a medication that may curb this irresistible urge. Preliminary results from two trials of a similar medication have been very promising, said study leader Lorrin Koran, MD.

“Patients in both studies reported feeling less anxiety, less depression and less impulsiveness. Most participants in the study said they stopped thinking about shopping and lost interest in it,” said Koran, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the medical center. Research coordinator Helen Chuong said compulsive shopping is often associated with depression, adding that more than 90 percent of sufferers are women.

Although the stereotype of a woman overextending her credit card at the mall is often played for laughs, sufferers and their families know it’s anything but funny. Categorized as an impulse-control disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, compulsive shopping can lead to personal and financial ruin.

“Compulsive shopping often has serious, unpleasant consequences, and should be a matter of public concern,” said Koran, who is also the director of the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Clinic at Stanford. Some of his patients have generated unmanageable credit-card debt, taken out second mortgages on their homes, declared bankruptcy and even been divorced as a result of the disorder.

“This chronic impulse is often brought on by or associated with feelings of tension, anxiety, boredom or depression. Purchases are followed by regret, guilt and resolve not to do it again,” said Koran.

The study will test a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor or SSRI (like Prozac) which is currently approved for use as an antidepressant. Koran believes the drug being tested could also abolish the purchasing impulse in compulsive shoppers.

Potential volunteers for the study will initially be screened over the phone. Those who qualify will receive seven weeks of treatment.

Volunteers who experience a marked reduction or cessation of their shopping impulses will then be randomized into either of two groups: one will continue drug treatment while the other will receive a placebo in place of the drug. This second part of the study, which will last eight weeks, will be double-blind to prevent the doctor and the volunteer from knowing whose medication has been replaced with a placebo. Double-blinding the study reduces the chance that the promising results seen in the first round were due to the patients’ own expectation of improvement, a phenomenon known as the placebo effect.

Volunteers will be interviewed weekly at first, and then every other week to rate the amount of time spent shopping or thinking about shopping, the associated distress, interference with their functioning and their ability to resist or dismiss the thoughts and impulses.

Those interested in volunteering for the study can call the Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders Research Program at (650) 725-5180.


Compulsive shopping study to research mysterious illness

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