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Am J Psychiatry. 1998 Jul;155(7):960-3.

Family history and psychiatric comorbidity in persons with compulsive buying: preliminary findings.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City 52242-1000, USA.



The authors explored the family history and psychiatric comorbidity of a group of compulsive buyers who volunteered for medication studies. Compulsive buying is characterized by inappropriate shopping and spending behavior that leads to impairment.


Thirty-three subjects who met the criteria of McElroy and colleagues for compulsive buying, and who scored more than two standard deviations above the mean on the Compulsive Buying Scale, were recruited. Twenty-two comparison subjects were recruited in the course of another study, and the presence of obsessive-compulsive disorder was the only reason for exclusion. Both groups were administered the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-III-R disorders. The Family History Research Diagnostic Criteria were used to collect information about psychiatric disorders in first-degree relatives.


Compulsive buyers had a mean age of 40 years; two (6%) were men. Comparison subjects had a mean age of 39 years; six (27%) were men. The two groups differed in gender distribution but not in age, marital status, or educational achievement. Compulsive buyers were more likely than comparison subjects to have lifetime mood disorders (especially major depression) and to have more than one psychiatric disorder. First-degree relatives of compulsive buyers were more likely than comparison relatives to suffer from depression, alcoholism, and a drug use disorder and to suffer more psychiatric disorders in general.


These results indicate that persons who report compulsive buying behavior, and their first-degree relatives, are more likely to have a higher prevalence of psychiatric disorder than are comparison subjects.

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