City's reputation as a retail paradise a hell for some, treatment centres reveal The number of bankruptcy cases linked to compulsive shoppers is rising rapidly, according to statistics from treatment centres. Statistics from the Healthy Budgeting Family Debt Centre, set up by the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals to help debtors, show that 608 - or 59 per cent - of total bankruptcy cases were related to overspending last year. In 2003, there were only 319. Lee Sing, director of the Hong Kong Mood Disorders Centre at Chinese University, said its staff had seen an increase in compulsive shoppers seeking treatment. 'I did not see one shopaholic in a year 10 years ago. But now, at least one will knock on our door with their emotional problems each month,' Dr Lee said. Addictive shopping was classified as a form of impulse control disorder, which means patients had difficulty stopping themselves from certain habits, he said. 'Apart from shopping, some people may be addicted to drinking, shoplifting, eating or even picking the hair from their bodies,' he said. 'Their addiction becomes more severe as they go shopping more often to forget their unhappiness. However, the anti-depressant effect is only short term and their depression ... usually worsens.' Dr Lee said people with depression and anxiety problems were more susceptible to addictive shopping. 'Some patients do find a certain anti-depressant effect from shopping. That's why they go shopping whenever they are down or feel lonely.' He said the city's reputation as a shopping paradise was actually a 'hell' for many shopaholics. 'It does not take you long to go to a shopping mall by public transport,' he said. 'To people with addictive shopping behaviour, it is no different from being surrounded by evil.' Dr Lee said it was not difficult to distinguish shopaholics from people who simply loved shopping. 'Patients with compulsive shopping disorder will spend a lot of money on shopping, which is always out of proportion to their financial status. Shopping may also become their No1 priority. In extreme cases, addictive shopping behaviour may affect their social life and even cause bankruptcies.' Tracy Leung Tsui-wan, supervisor of the Healthy Budgeting Family Debt Centre, said uncontrollable shopping spending behaviour was not restricted to women. She said about 50 per cent of its clients who sought help on overspending behaviour were men. 'The overspending pattern for men is different from women. They usually do not go shopping as often. But men will buy gym packages, or treat friends to meals, without giving much consideration about whether they can afford it or not.' Dr Lee said the common use of credit cards to buy or borrow also contributed to excessive shopping. The District Court earlier this month sentenced a woman to 200 hours community service after she pleaded guilty to 20 charges of using property by deception. She had used her friend's credit card 46 times to amass a HK$58,318 debt. The psychological report submitted to the court said she had an uncontrollable desire to shop. Clinical psychologist Kathleen Kwok Pik-san, of the Mood Disorders Centre, said counselling with such patients would involve helping them evaluate reasons for their behaviour and correct false assumptions about shopping.