Compulsive Buying Disorder (CBD), otherwise known as oniomania is a very real condition that affects 15-30 million people in the United States – primarily adult women. Are you one of them? 

A Brief History of Oniomania

The word oniomania is a word taken from the ancient Greek that literally means “for sale insanity.” It was a term first coined in 1915 by German Psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin and then later mentioned in Eugen Blueler’s Textbook of Psychiatry (1924) who described the behavior as compulsive and impulsive buying. Both psychiatrists noted that it was a condition that primarily affected women.

Oniomania has been with us for a very long time – Marie Antoinette, Mary Todd Lincoln, and even Princess Diana were said to have had it. But with the deregulation of television in the 1980s and the rise of the infomercial it started to affect women in the middle class that couldn’t afford to purchase stuff at whim.

Today with the availability of shopping 24/7 online and the constant barrage and seduction of advertising, oniomania/CBD is finally being addressed by both the medical and psychological community in earnest.

Why Women?

According to many sources 90-95% of these addicted shoppers are women. This is not necessarily a sexist thing, but a social observation. We live in a consumerist society and women are particularly targeted because they often make the buying decisions in households. Women are also conditioned to shop – this is thought by some to have begun with the female liberation movements that started in the Victorian era and the rise of the department store in the 1920s; shopping was equated with freedom. 

However, those with CSD rarely feel “free” – often, they suffer from other serious disorders such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. The shopping experience can give the user a quick, temporary boost in their mood that can be as addictive as cocaine… and just as difficult to stop. According to Dr. Donald Black, a psychiatrist and professor at University of Iowa, between 2-8% of adults in the US are compulsive shoppers, averaging $25,000 in debt.

“Infomercial Junkie” Marisa Woolsey

In 2011, ABC News did a profile of Marisa Woolsey, a mother in her late 20s who was a self-proclaimed “Informercial Junkie,” who said she bought 50 “As Seen On TV” products that year, or nearly one a week. Her infatuation began in 2006 when she worked overnight as a home caregiver and saw an ad on TV for the Magic Bullet. From there, she said, she was hooked and had to own them all.

Woolsey’s compulsion was due to her having to know whether the products really worked as advertised. “It drives me crazy,” she said. And when the products arrive in the mail “it’s like Christmas!” 

But there’s a blurry line between “enthusiast” and “addict.” Did Ms. Woolsey cross it and has she recovered? Her website is currently blank and her Facebook page hasn’t been active since 2012.  

Are You a Victim of CBD?

Because of the central role shopping has in our Western society, it is hard to both diagnose and treat those with CBD. There is debate as to whether it is an addiction similar to drugs or one that has psychological roots. Either way it can be devastating to the person’s psyche, their families, and their pocketbooks.

There are some telltale signs of CBD, which are:

  • You go on shopping binges, often alone
  • You feel elated at first, and then depressed or guilty after a purchase
  • You are constantly thinking about shopping
  • You have items you’ve bought that are still in boxes and never used
  • You have money problems related to shopping expenses
  • When you get angry, sad, or frustrated you shop to ease the pain
  • You try to hide the purchases

What You Can Do

Psychologist Dr. April Lane Benson, a specialist in CBD, has a method to help by asking yourself 6 questions when you are about to make a purchase:

  • Why am I here?
  • How do I feel?
  • Do I need this? 
  • What if I wait?
  • How will I pay for it?
  • Where will I put it?

She also wrote a book and has a website to help those that want and need further help controlling their shopping impulses. 

Some other ways to control spending:

  • Take up a hobby or exercise that doesn’t involve money
  • Limit shopping trips, don’t shop online
  • Purchase with cash as much as possible
  • Limit yourself to one credit card only for emergencies

If none of the above help you control your spending, it may be time to seek help from a doctor, psychologist, or support group in your area.

Remember, you are not alone!

PS – just because studies seem to indicate CBD primarily affects women doesn’t mean men can’t get it too. The societal stigma may cause them to be underrepresented. Seek help if you need it!