There Should Be A Pill To Make People Stop Spending

by golbguru on November 28, 2006

The other day, I came across an old article (published 2002) from New York Times reprinted on this website. The article is titled “Hijacking the Brain Circuits With a Nickel Slot Machine“.

The article relates compulsive gambling to dopamine activity (dopamine is a naturally occuring chemical in our bodies that responsible for feelings of “pleasure”; it’s the same chemical that swings into action for drug addicts). This is what it says about gambling:

Many people visit a casino, lose money , and are not tempted to go back. But compulsive gamblers seem to have vulnerable dopamine systems,” he said. “The first time they win, they get a huge dopamine rush that gets embedded in their memory. Then they keep gambling, and the occasional dopamine rush of winning overrides their conscious knowledge that they will lose in the long run.

I was wondering how that paragraph would read if we substituted “gambling” and related terms with “shopping” and related terms. Here is how it will read:

Many people visit a mall, buy stuff, and are not tempted to go back. But compulsive shoppers seem to have vulnerable dopamine systems,” he said. “The first time they shop, they get a huge dopamine rush that gets embedded in their memory. Then they keep shopping, and the occasional dopamine rush of buying overrides their conscious knowledge that they will get into debt in the long run.

That makes sense to me :)…I have seen people who behave/spend in exactly that manner. Forgive me for I am being very unscientific and wishful here, but the way I see it, the gambling and spending problems might be related. If that is true, compulsive spending/shopping might also be related to weak dopamine systems, in the same way as compulsive gambling is related. Such dopamine activity is evident (to me) when women shop for clothes and shoes and when men shop for electronics and hardware.

Now, if they can treat compulsive gamblers with medications, they should be able to treat compulsive spenders/shoppers with some medications too. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a pill that you can take a couple of days before Black Friday (or Cyber Monday) and just watch the crazy days go by without feeling the “urge” to shop? :). In some cases, such pills should work well with pills for stupidity. :)Btw, see what it has to say about money:

Several studies were published last year looking at monetary rewards and dopamine. “Money may be abstract but to the brain it looks like cocaine, food, sex or anything a person expects is rewarding,” said Dr. Hans Breiter, a neuroscientist at Harvard. “People crave it.”

And a few interesting words about economic decision making:

“Economists and neuroscientists use the same mathematical equations for modeling market behavior and dopamine behavior,” Dr. Montague said. “Neuroscience may provide an entirely new set of constructs for understanding economic decision making.”

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jessie 11.28.06 at 4:27 pm

I don’t think you are being wishful on the possibility on this one :-). They actually treat shopping addiction with therapy and it has been on shows like “Intervention”. Logic would dictate that it is something that could treated with medication.

Now about the Black Friday pill, maybe they can come up with an over the counter option?! :-D

2 3 things about money 11.29.06 at 1:42 am

Some psychiatrists have gotten excellent results by treating compulsive shoppers (who are not bipolar) with the antidepressant Wellbutrin. It has a slightly stimulating effect and is a great antidepressant. Compulsive shopping has a lot of different sources, but my humble opinion is that a big one is depression, and feeling “less-than”. The neurotransmitter boost from shopping can help. Treating the source can help, but people have to want help. Interesting post, thanks.

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