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by Abigail Van Buren

Shopping Raises Her Spirits but Drowns Woman in Debt

DEAR ABBY: I'm a shopaholic. I'm constantly shopping the department store sales and thrift shops. It's my "fix" when I'm feeling down or bored. It never used to be this bad. I purchase things and keep it secret from my husband. I don't just buy for me. I also buy for others. I am out of control. It has reached the point where I'm in the hole $4,800.

I never had nice things when I was young, and I tell myself I deserve them. It's like being on a diet and cheating -- I feel guilty every time I do it. The idea of cutting up my credit cards is threatening. I'm sad now, but I'd be really depressed if I had to. I pray every night to stop this cycle, but my prayers go unanswered because I'm not sincere.

I'm a lonely person with few friends. I'm scared and don't know where to turn. Please help me. I can't afford a therapist. -- FASHIONABLY LONELY IN NEW YORK

DEAR LONELY: Please pick up your phone and make an appointment to discuss this with your doctor. Some people become compulsive shoppers because the "rush" it gives them temporarily eases their chronic depression -- and from your letter, I am pretty sure you fall into that category. Medication can help, but it must be prescribed by a physician.

Debtors Anonymous is an international 12-step fellowship that provides mutual help in recovering from compulsive spending. If you contact this group, you will find it provides a phone support network as well as a newsletter, and the primary purpose of its members is to stay solvent and help other compulsive debtors achieve solvency. For more information, write Debtors Anonymous General Service Office, P.O. Box 920888, Needham, MA 02492, or visit the Web site at