To Buy or Not To Buy

Why we overshop and how to stop.

Compulsive Buying: An Impulse-Control Disorder

How is compulsive buying defined?

Although not all compulsive buyers are particularly interested with such distinctions, there's some uncertainty among the mental health profession about whether to see overshopping as a genuine disorder or merely a bad habit, and more uncertainty about whether, if it is a disorder, it aligns more closely with the obsessive-compulsive spectrum or with the impulsive-control continuum. In the journal Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience (2010; 12(2): 175-85), D.W. Black, M. Shaw, and N. Blum make a case for seeing compulsive shopping as a legitimate disorder on the impulse-control continuum.

In their article, "Pathological gambling and compulsive buying: do they fall within an obsessive-compulsive spectrum?" the authors point out that these questions assume greater importance now because final revisions to the DSM are being prepared, revisions that will soon culminate in DSM-5. Compulsive buying has for the first time been proposed for inclusion.

Examining both compulsive buying and pathological gambling in terms of their history, definition, classification, phenomenology, family history, pathophysiology, and clinical management, Black and his colleagues conclude that neither disorder belongs on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum. They recommend that gambling be left in its present place, among impulse-control disorders, and that compulsive shopping now be added to that family.

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April Lane Benson, Ph.D., is the author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop. She specializes in the treatment of compulsive buying disorder.

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