Do you stare at your credit card bill at the end of the month and wonder when you bought all of that useless shit? Are brown boxes decorated with the curved Amazon.com arrow showing up at your door on a daily basis? There's a name for that condition: oniomania, otherwise known as compulsive shopping.
"I definitely won't regret this later."
And as lame as it sounds, it can be just as serious as any other behavioral disorder. It can lead to ruined credit histories, failed marriages, and theft. But what is a sufferer supposed to do about it, you ask? This isn't like some chemical addiction where it sort of makes sense that a drug could curb the impulse. Are you honestly going to take a pill that magically suppresses the urge to shop?
Well, yeah. Have you even been paying attention to this article at all?
"This will give you liquid shits if you so much as even look at a Macy's."
Scientists at the University of Minnesota gave a drug called memantine to people ages 19 to 59 who suffer from shopaholism. Before the trial began, these people spent up to 61 percent of their annual salary on impulse buys -- these were middle-class folks who devoted as much as 38 hours a week looking for bargains in stores. And while a TLC reality show star might call that "Wednesday," your average American's bank account calls it "Oh dear God, let the torture end." After taking the pill for eight weeks, sufferers engaged in less impulse buying and had "fewer impulsive urges, thoughts, and behavior." Overall, the pill reduced the symptoms of the disorder by freaking half.
The whole thing worked so well, it even made the TV news:
So, how does that possibly work? The drug affects glutamate, a chemical in the brain that is believed to contribute to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many health professionals think that compulsive shopping is a close cousin of OCD, so treating someone's urge to lock and unlock their door 30 times whenever they leave the house is very similar to treating their overwhelming urge to buy out the underwear bin at Walmart.
Well, shit, if they have a pill that can cure our stupid urges, what else can they cure? How about ...
From crazy dictators blaming recessions on the different-colored scapegoat of the day to your asshole uncle constantly screaming about the world being overrun with jive turkeys, racism is an unfortunate and unavoidable part of life. And what's worse, no matter how many Will Smith movies we watch, there might be a certain part of every one of us that unconsciously fears some different color or creed -- unless you take a pill for it. One that's already available.
"And you're sure this will stop my husband from shooting the TV every time The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air comes on?"
Well, OK, so we might not yet be at the point where you can walk up to a doctor and ask him to hook you up with some pills for your grandpa's inexplicable hatred of Scandinavians. But hey, it's not like science isn't trying -- and succeeding. Recently, some researchers at Oxford University found that they could combat racism using an anxiety drug that's already out: propranolol.
In an experiment, the researchers gave either propranolol or a placebo to a bunch of white people, the most stereotypically racist bunch the researchers could think of (which, in a sense, would make the scientists themselves doubly racist). The participants filled out surveys rating their attitudes toward black people using a scale from 0 to 100, 0 meaning that they wanted to personally push a button that would nuke Atlanta, 100 meaning that they'd like to make sweet love to a Nubian deity and populate the world with their ethnically ambiguous love children. They then repeated the surveys with their feelings toward homosexuals, Muslims, Christians, and drug addicts, which are apparently races now.
"I'll have you know that we are a proud, noble, balls-tripping people!"
But wait! you might say. People aren't always honest in these types of surveys -- even to themselves. Some people might sincerely believe that they're colorblind and progressive, but might harbor prejudices buried so deep in their subconscious, they'd need a Ouija board to find them. That's why the scientists then gave them a computerized test that involved sorting faces of different ethnic origins along with words with positive and negative connotations. This test assessed the participants' "implicit racism," the racism that you might harbor but be consciously unaware of.
And guess what? The people who were given the propranolol scored significantly lower on tests of implicit racism. That's right -- the drug actually led to people becoming less racist at a subconscious level. Why did the drug work so well? The Brits believe the reason is that propranolol affects the part of the brain involved in fear and emotional responses. Essentially, the drug calms the symptoms of anxiety, and since racism is thought to be fundamentally founded on fear, calming down one's automatic fear response should also calm down the desire to carpet bomb every country that ends in "stan."
Sadly, for Dale, some aspects of his skinhead life would always remain.
For now, battling racism is strictly an off-label use for propranolol due to the ethical implications of improving people's morals via lozenge. But it's nice to know it's there should you ever need to spike the punch at your local Klan rally.
For more things science is giving us, check out 5 Mind-Blowing Ways That Science Has Done the Impossible and 5 of Life's Most Mundane Problems (Solved With Math).
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Insane New Year's Celebrations from Around the World.