Originally created 12/18/00

Hope for compulsive shoppers



The annual rush to the mall is just part of the holidays for most people, but for those who suffer from a serious compulsive shopping disorder throughout the year, an anti-depressant drug is showing promise, researchers reported Monday.

Although it's classified as an impulse-control disorder, compulsive shopping (actually compulsive buying) has often been associated with depression.

"This chronic impulse, often used to relieve feelings of anxiety and depression in a patient, can be difficult to treat," said Dr. Lorrin Koran, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University Medical School who's heading an ongoing study of the drug.

The disorder is marked by preoccupation with purchasing unneeded items to an extent that it causes distress, social or occupational impairment or financial problems, with many sufferers running up huge credit card debt, taking out second mortgages on homes or divorcing a spouse.

Estimates of the extent of the disorder range from 2 to 8 percent of the adult U.S. population, with women making up more than 90 percent of the sufferers.

A preliminary test of the drug Citalopram (brand name Celexa) in 19 women and two men showed that 80 percent of those taking it had a positive response, based on scores from two standardized measures of compulsive behavior taken before and during the 12-week study, which was sponsored by the manufacturer of the drug, Forest Laboratories.

"They reported feeling less anxiety, less depression, less impulsiveness," said Koran, who also heads the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Clinic at Stanford. "The women in the study reported they stopped thinking about shopping."

The researchers suspect the drug works to reduce the compulsive behavior much as it does for depression - by selectively inhibiting the uptake of the mood-altering brain chemical serotonin.

The test results were presented by Dr. Kim Bullock, a member of the team, during a meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology in Puerto Rico.

The main purpose of the first study was to test the safety and tolerance of the drug among people with the disorder. Three patients did drop out of the study after experiencing side effects. And since everyone knew they were getting an active dose of the medicine, the patients might have been more inclined to expect and report that they were feeling better.

In a second phase of the test, now recruiting patients in the San Francisco Bay area, patients will all get the active drug for seven weeks. Then they'll be randomly assigned to two groups: one will get Citalopram for another eight weeks, the other will get an inactive pill. Neither the doctors nor patients will be allowed to know which patients switched until after the study's done, which should eliminate any placebo effect.

On the Net:

http://www.apa.org - American Psychological Association;

http://www.ocfoundation.org - Obsessive Compulsive Foundation, Inc.