Sterling, Va., resident Elisa-Ruth Nelson was on antidepressants for only nine months, and during that time felt compelled to acquire not only things but also credit cards, especially retail accounts. "They were pretty!" says Nelson, "I amassed so many of them. The Limited, Macy's, Bloomingdales . . . I just did what I wanted. I bought St. John suits and Louis Vuitton. Whatever was in the window, I bought it. If the salesgirl said I looked good -- I bought it."

When she went off the medications, says Nelson, "Miraculously, it was over." Debt remained, though, and, like Honeycutt, Nelson is using a credit counseling agency's repayment plan to deal with it.

Stories like Honeycutt's and Nelson's are not uncommon, says Alesandra Rain, a co-founder of Point of Return, a nonprofit that helps people find a natural way to address their psychological needs through education programs and counseling and which also sells related supplements. (Honeycutt is a member of Point of Return's executive team.) In fact, Rain, too, went on bizarre spending sprees when she was on antidepressants.

"I bought an entire wardrobe of sundresses, and I only wear jeans!" says Rain. "I can't wear heels, yet I bought an entire collection of 3-, 4-, 5-inch heels. With SSRIs, there is no turn-off switch. I bought a T-shirt folder -- not one, but three! It was crazy."

Today, Rain and her organization help others identify the side effects associated with antidepressants. "I hear it all the time -- impulsively buying cars, trading stocks, selling in the stock market," says Rain.

Treat the ailment and remain solvent

 If you believe a friend or relative has antidepressant-induced hypomania and is spending, charging or gambling detrimentally, don't simply take away the credit cards. "It will escalate the mood, and if they're bipolar, you risk a bad reaction," says Bacchus. "Ask if you can take them to the doctor. Even the emergency room. They are equipped to handle these situations."

Rain suggests sitting down with the person and calmly asking, "Do you know how much you've changed?" Don't place blame on them, she advises. Instead, you might say, "I looked it up, and overspending and gambling are side effects of your medications. It must be so uncomfortable for you."

Offering hard evidence can be beneficial, says Laurie Campbell of Croton, Ohio. Campbell had been prescribed Paxil for irritable bowel syndrome, and she says her spending was so out of control she drained her 401k because of it.

"If someone has a loved one going through this and you know they were prescribed something because they were depressed, print out the information that is out there," she says. "Be firm and say, 'You don't see what is going on with you, but here's what has happened in the last six months before taking this drug.' Do the tough-love thing. It might have helped me," says Campbell.

And if you identify the problem in yourself? Tell your prescribing doctor that your spending habits have changed and ask if it could be medication-related. A change may be in order. You may also be able to control your own financial actions before or during a hypomanic state. For example:

  • Tell trusted friends and family members about the problem. Ask them to tell you if you're sounding or acting unusual, and ask if they would be willing to talk to you before you make large purchases.
  • Unsubscribe from retailers' email advertisements.
  • Avoid places where you tend to overspend. For example, if you're a "shoe person," do not even enter a shoe store.
  • Redirect your energy. Write, garden, clean or contact old friends. Use this time in a positive way until the episode has passed.

The bottom line: Any change in antidepressant use has the potential to send some people into a hypomanic episode. It could be starting the medication, changing the dosage, discontinuing it or even adding an extra cup of coffee to the mix. If you fear the medications might be causing you to make foolish or dangerous financial choices, let your doctor and caring family members know.

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