- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2000

Researchers are waging war on the slew of devastating diseases plaguing humanity, and a brave battalion of bio-warriors at Stanford University in California is contributing by testing a cure for shopping addiction. While shoppers get a new lease on life, one has to wonder what this will do the the nation's retailers, not to speak of the economic expansion.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the condition is widespread, and is a serious threat to Americans' mental health. The APA estimated that 15 million shoppers in the United States struggle with compulsive shopping, while another 40 million are on the brink. Clinically termed oniomania, the disease is characterized by binge shopping, where victims buy scads of clothes, shoes, and accessories but are so plagued by guilt that the only balm is another buy.

The APA said around 90 percent of compulsive shoppers are women. Some think low seratonin levels, which can cause depression and self-loathing, are responsible for compulsive shopping. Help is on the way. Like Prozac, the drug Stanford researchers are testing increases the brain's supply of seratonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood changes.

With this kind of epidemic devouring the country, one wonders, how the medical community could have stood by and watched as the outbreak escalated to such mythical proportions.

Maybe we should slap a surgeon general's warning on every price tag in the mall that reads, "Warning: purchasing this item may make you feel guilty and deplete your bank account." Or: "This product has a gender-based disparate impact; female shoppers are nine times more likely to develop oniomania." Or we could levy a tax to discourage people from shopping; or better yet, mandate a waiting period so shoppers can quell their cravings and avoid decidedly dangerous impulse buys. That would surely prevent Americans from going on reactionary shopping sprees.

However, taxpayers' money might be better spent studying common sense. While popping a pill is easier than canceling your MasterCard, Americans might be served better if the APA would advocate a little self-control.

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