Cape Town 090422 The non voters taking advantage of the public holiday shopping aroung the cavendish mall Picture Ayanda Ndamane

London - A pill designed to treat Alzheimer’s could help compulsive shoppers curb their habit.

Shopaholics given the medication in tests spent less time shopping and cut the cash they squandered on impulse buys.

Compulsive shoppers can run up debts of thousands, but psychiatrists have struggled to come up with effective treatments.

More than four out of five sufferers are women. Their problem is not just resisting a sales sign, but buying things they don’t need and can’t afford.

Psychiatrists tested a medication called memantine, normally prescribed to prevent deterioration in patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s.

Clinical trial results showed after eight weeks, men and women taking the pill reduced the amount of time shopping and the amount of money spent. Overall, symptoms were halved, with less impulsive buying and improvements in brain function linked to impulsive urges, thoughts and behaviour.

‘Hours spent shopping per week and money spent shopping both decreased significantly, with no side effects,’ said a team of psychiatrists from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Those taking part in the study of nine people aged 19 to 59 were diagnosed with compulsive buying disorder, based on ‘senseless preoccupation’ with shopping and spending. This led to distress, an inability to function at work or socially and financial problems.

Compulsive buying affects up to 5.8 percent of adults, according to studies. People in the trial earned almost £40,000 a year on average, but were spending 61 percent of their income on impulsive purchases, mostly clothes. They were looking for bargains up to 38 hours a week in shops.

The researchers said the impulsive spending was often triggered by sale signs, a need to impress, a desire to ‘must have’, and body image. They scored the shoppers on a range of tests at the start of the two-month trial, measuring symptoms such as buying urges, anxiety, depression, stress and disability caused by the problem.

Memantine, also known as Ebixa, was originally designed for Alzheimer’s and has been approved for use in NHS patients who fail to respond to other treatments. It acts on the brain chemical glutamate which is thought to be involved in the development of dementia, but it is also believed to be involved in obsessiveness and may play some role in OCD (obsessive compulsive disorders).

‘Our findings suggest that pharmacologic manipulation of the glutamate system may target the impulsive behaviour underlying compulsive buying,’ said the researchers.

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. - Daily Mail