Compulsive Buying Disorder Can Be Deadly

Whenever I talk about compulsive buying and get the feeling, either from some nonverbal cue or from what my listener actually says, that he or she just doesn’t see the dangers, I cringe.

“That’s an addiction?” one asks.

“Are there really that many people who do this?” queries another.

“It’s not serious like an eating disorder, or drug addiction or alcoholism.  People die from those,” a therapist tells me.

Not so.

Soon after his father’s death in 2008, James Hammond, who was fourteen at the time, became depressed and started developing a shopping addiction, buying clothes and starting to spend lavishly on nights out with friends. Although he was left an inheritance of £6000, he spent it all quickly on internet binge-shopping episodes that sometimes lasted a whole week.

Over the next four years, his depression and shopping addiction worsened. Antidepressant medication only slightly diminished his symptoms. To fund a ten-week internet shopping binge, he stole £7,780 from his mother’s bank account. When she discovered this, she confronted him and threatened that if he didn’t get help, she would call the police.  James told her that he was seriously depressed and threatened to kill himself.

Ultimately, believing that the only way to escape his depression, his shame, and his significant debt was to end his life, on the night of June 29th, 2013, after a night out with his friends, Hammond jumped from a bridge to his death.

This is not the first case of a suicide I’ve read about that cites, along with depression, compulsive buying disorder and debt as contributing factors. I, myself, have known or known of two middle aged men whose suicides were motivated in part, by the long term negative consequences of overspending. As far back as 2001, an article in the U.S. News and World Report reported that credit card debt had been linked to a number of suicides by college students.  Clearly, we need to make both the public and the mental health community more aware of compulsive buying disorder, it’s relationship with depression, and ways to find effective help. It’s critical to saving lives, marriages, families, and homes.

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Do You Have a Compulsive Buying Disorder?

I would like to continue our discussion on compulsive buying disorder this week by bringing in an expert, Dr.April Benson. Dr. Benson, a psychologist, specializes in treating compulsive buying disorder from her practice in New York City.

Dr. Benson is the author of several books on compulsive buying. She said her book, To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop is a self-help guide you can use on your own. Dr. Benson states in the book’s introduction, “The underlying premise of the book is that when we overshop, though we often don’t realize it, we are trying to fill emotional needs with material goods.” She continues, “…to change your behavior, you’ve got to change the way you feel about yourself and the way you go about meeting your authentic needs.”

Her book contains the exercises to help you ascertain the short and long term benefits, and costs, of stopping or continuing buying. For example, we spoke of someone who constantly buys greeting cards. Why are they really buying greeting cards? Are they bored, creative or lonely? It is nice to have greeting cards to send out, but how many are needed? They are costly, they take up space and if they aren’t used they will start to yellow over time and become unusable.

Dr. Benson’s website contains a link to her article, When Shopping Heals, where she relays her own personal experience with overshopping and the needs it filled. She also provides a very informative blog on her website,, with information for compulsive buyers and their family members. On her blog she mentions “the high of the buy” and discovering the “cues/triggers” that make us want to buy.

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She created the below “Before You Buy” card and suggests slowing down and asking yourself each of the following questions before you make a purchase:


Want a constant reminder? Cut Dr. Benson’s card out and tape it to your credit card, wallet, computer or television screen.

There are many people who may be looking for help but are too anxious or are unsure where to go. Dr. Benson’s site is one of the best resources we could find available. Dr. Benson said to remember that, “You can never get enough of what you really don’t need and effective help is definitely available.”


Jenny PowerAbsolutely Organized, LLC

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