MILLIONS of compulsive shoppers may soon be cured of their addiction simply by popping a pill.
A new drug has been developed by an unnamed pharmaceutical company and is currently being tested on volunteers at Stanford University in California.
Although little is known about it - for commercial reasons - the drug is a selective serotonin-re-uptake-inhibitor. This family of anti-depressants - including Prozac - increase the brain's supply of seratonin, a neurotransmitter critical to mood changes. A shortage of seratonin can lead to feelings of depression and low self worth.
Although the identity of the firm has not been disclosed, four companies are known to make SSRI-based medicines: Eli Lilly, the manufacturers of Prozac, SmithKline Beecham, Pfizer and Forest Pharmaceuticals. The American Psychological Association has estimated that 15 million shoppers in the US struggle with compulsive shopping, while another 40 million are on the brink.
About 90 per cent of compulsive shoppers are women and victims often buy huge quantities of clothes, make-up, jewellery and shoes. Most are so overcome by feelings of guilt about their spending that only another trip to the shops can make them feel better.
The condition, clinically known as oniomania, was first identified nearly a century ago by a German psychiatrist but the number of victims has expanded rapidly in America's booming economy. Women may have a higher incidence of oniomania because of the way they respond to lower than normal levels of seratonin.
The new pill is being tested on a control group of 24 volunteer "shopaholics". If successful, the company will market it as the first antidote to the disorder. The trials, which are expected to last 12 weeks, involve two groups of female patients, one of which will be given a placebo.
The study will also examine other possible causes of compulsive shopping, including social and economic pressures. In particular, Stanford's research team wants to know why most sufferers are women. Michael Elliott, the research co-ordinator, said: "Women are assigned the shopping role for the family in our culture." The university did not disclose who would pick up the bill for the potentially costly shopping expeditions.
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