- Tuesday, 29 May 2012
A pill designed to treat Alzheimer's could be used to help shopaholics curb their habit, according to a study. In tests, compulsive shoppers who were given the medication spent less time hitting stores and cut the amount of money they spent on impulse buys.
Psychiatrists have previously struggled to come up with treatments for shopaholics, who can run up debts of thousands - losing their homes, jobs and friendships by over spending. More than four out of five compulsive shoppers are women - with the condition causing them to buy items they do not need and cannot afford.
In a study, psychiatrists tested a medication called memantine, which is usually prescribed to prevent deterioration in patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer's. Clinical trial results showed that men and women reduced the amount of time shopping and amount they spend after eight weeks of taking the pill. Symptoms were halved - with less impulsive buying and improvements in brain function linked to urges, thoughts and behaviour.
A team of psychiatrists from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, examined nine people aged 19 to 59 who had been diagnosed with compulsive buying disorder. This disorder was based on a "senseless preoccupation" with shopping and spending, leading to an inability to function at work, socially and financial problems.
People in the study earned £40,000 a year on average but spent 61 per cent of this on impulsive purchases, mainly clothes. They spent up to 38 hours a week in shops. The team said: "Hours spent shopping per week and money spent shopping both decreased significantly, with no side effects."
Up to 5.8 per cent of adults are affecting by compulsive buying.
The researchers said impulsive spending was often triggered by sale signs, a need to impress, a desire to "must have" and body image. They scored the shopaholics on a range of tests at the start of the two week trial, measuring symptoms from buying urges to depression caused by the problem.
Memantine, also known as Ebixa, was originally designed for Alzheimer's and has been approved for NHS patients who do not respond to other treatments. It acts on the brain chemical glutamate, thought to be involved in the development of dementia. The chemical is also thought to be involved in obsessiveness and could play some role in obsessive compulsive disorders.
"Our findings suggest that pharmacologic manipulation of the glutamate system may target the impulsive behaviour underlying compulsive buying," the researchers added.
Dr Cecilia D’Felice, a clinical psychologist, said OCD could change the way the brain functioned.
She said: "At an advanced stage they change the architecture of the brain.
"These people become addicted to shopping, it takes over their lives, and it’s necessary to alter the 'chemical soup' in their brain in order to help them."
She said drugs could "kick-start" the brain’s chemical messengers that had become disordered.
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