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The situation for Miami shopaholics is worse than ever. Even if compulsive shoppers manage to prevent a shopping spree by staying away from the mall, online coupon sites and daily deal offers can cause them to splurge on purchases that may contribute to driving them into bankruptcy.

Psychologists say that keeping impulses under control is more of a challenge today than it has been in the past because the Internet offers so many opportunities for anonymous shopping, 24 hours a day. Moreover, where brick-and-mortar shoppers can limit purchases by paying cash and leaving their credit cards at home, online shoppers can’t pay cash.

The American Psychological Association estimates that 15 million Americans are compulsive online shoppers. They spend hundreds of dollars on daily discount deals that go unredeemed. They treat themselves to items while they’re doing holiday shopping for others, and they start holiday buying earlier than shoppers who don’t have a problem.

For these individuals, shopping is an emotional problem. Compulsive shoppers keep shopping to get the emotional high that comes when they find bargains or spend cash online. When shopping gets out of hand, it can lead to harmful consequences such bankruptcy and divorce, especially when one spouse hides compulsive purchases from another. In one such case, a wife secretly depleted her husband’s retirement savings account. In extreme cases, victims have embezzled money from employers to pay for their shopping splurges.

The new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, due for publication in 2013, may include compulsive buying as an impulse control disorder. Shopping addiction can often be treated with therapy and 12-step programs.

Source: Chicago Tribune, “When shopping is a problem,” Bonnie Miller Rubin, Dec. 23, 2011