Study shows Americans spend billions shopping while drunk

Thursday, March 8, 2018
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We all know alcohol lowers our inhibitions, and now a new survey shows what a problem that can be when it comes to shopping.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- We all know alcohol lowers our inhibitions, and now a new survey shows what a problem that can be when it comes to shopping.

"Online drunk version of Anna always shops for fascinating things that sober version of Anna finds interesting later on," said Anna McDermott, who we found strolling along Market Street.

"You know, I've made some decisions on the internet shopping for clothes slightly inebriated -- not a good call," agreed Owen Smith.

Now, a survey by personal finance website suggests they're hardly alone.

"People do impulsively shop and blow out their budgets when they're drunk," said consumer advocate Michelle Hutchison.

The survey shows Americans spent more than $30 billion while drunk last year, with men outspending women two to one. Individual respondents reported spending twice as much while drunk as respondents to the previous year's survey.

"I think it is a really concerning thing to see people spending more when they're under the influence," Hutchison said.

Shopping online while drunk is nothing new. Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow first wrote about it almost a decade ago, and says it makes perfect scientific sense. When alcohol gets to the brain, it affects the cerebral cortex, which lowers inhibitions, and also the hippocampus, which heightens emotions, she said.

"The combination of lower impulse control and more emotion often times is going to result in hitting that buy button," Yarrow said.

Though it's been a topic of discussion among researchers for only a few years, Yarrow mentioned the effects of alcohol on shopping decisions in her 2009 book "Gen BuY."

"It just wasn't as common back then because I think people weren't shopping online as much back then," she said.

Now, with stored credit card numbers and one-touch ordering, shopping online while drunk is a good way to get a surprise delivery on your doorstep.

"Random things on Amazon, clothes that definitely aren't normally your style," McDermott said.

Yarrow said there's a simple way to fix all that:

"Put everything in your shopping cart if you want to, but don't hit the 'buy' button until the next morning," she said. goes a step further with a free Chrome plug-in called Icebox. It replaces the "buy" button on over 400 websites with a cool blue button marked "put on ice."

"That allows you to put your purchases 'on ice' for 30 days, so you can have time to think about it -- perhaps when you're sobered up," Hutchison said.

Of course, a browser plug-in won't help out in the real world. The survey showed the number one thing respondents bought while drunk was food.

"I think Safeway's more dangerous than the internet," said Katja Schreiner during our impromtpu Market Street gathering.

"I usually go for a burger," agreed Kieran Hall, who said he never eats red meat while sober. "It's the best way to get rid of the hangover, I find."