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Compulsive shopping disorder: It's no joke
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Some other questions that might help you decide if you're a compulsive shopper come from the compulsive buying scale, a measure co-developed by Ron Faber, a professor of mass communication at the University of Minnesota. Faber says there are several predictors of compulsive shoppers.

Predictors of compulsive shopping:

From his study of compulsive shoppers, Faber also notes that many celebrities who are known for their lavish lifestyles are probably compulsive shoppers. "There is a high likelihood that Michael Jackson is a compulsive shopper," he says.

Steps to recovery
As with any addition, the first step is admitting there is a problem and wanting to get help for it. Mellan recommends programs such as Debtors Anonymous. Credit counseling may also be helpful in addressing the debt that most compulsive shoppers have.

One of the challenges to recovery is that alcoholics can abstain from drinking and drug addicts can swear off drugs, but people have to buy things. Mitchell's clinic has had good success with group therapy to identify situations and emotions that trigger the impulse to shop, trouble spots to avoid and alternate activities to pursue when the urge to shop hits. Some mental health professionals have had success with medication, but Mitchell says the research results are decidedly mixed.

Then there are the practical rules, Mitchell says.

"One of the first things you do in treatment with these folks is get them to give up their credit cards," he says.

Next, never buy anything spontaneously. Go shopping with a list, and don't buy anything that isn't on the list. Make a rule that if you see something you want, you have to come back 24 hours later before you can buy it. And stay away from garage sales, home shopping channels on television, and online shopping sites such as eBay and Amazon.com.

Mellan calls it avoiding "slippery places" and also suggests identifying specific times of the day or week, such as payday at a job you don't like, when you could be tempted.

Then, make a list of other behaviors you can substitute for shopping, such as exercising, taking a bath, walking, doing something creative, calling a friend, volunteering or making a "community or spiritual connection."

She saw the importance of finding something else to fill the need to shop when she put together a tape of songs as a memorial to a friend who had died the previous year. She worked on it "around my birthday, which is a time of year when I always feel very needy about clothing.

"It was a wonderful process," she says. "It was very creative and made me feel very good. During that time, I had no desire to shop at all. It was a deeper need that inhabited the space where the addiction had been."

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: Sept. 19, 2006
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