Tests on patients in the United States - where consumers spend more each year on food, clothes, cars and holidays than any other country - have shown the chronic compulsion can be treated with the drug fluvoxamine.
Its use in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorders, already approved in the US, has now been given the green light in Britain.
Dr Donald Black, a psychiatrist at the University Hospital of Iowa, treated eight shopaholics with the drug over two months. Three showed clear signs of improvement after one week. By the end of five weeks, all eight were cured.
But when patients stopped taking the drug - brand name Faverin - the buying compulsion returned. "This indicates that such patients will probably need lifelong treatment, like patients suffering from hypertension," Dr Black said.
Dr Michael Trimble, professor of behavioural neurology at the Institute of Neurology in London, said the compulsion to shop came in the same category as those who felt compelled to mutilate themselves or bite their nails.
"Any drug that is effective in treating obsessive compulsive disorders should be tried on compulsive shoppers if they volunteer for treatment," he said.Reuse content