May 14, 2010 -- Andrea calls them "gifts" from her drunk self to her sober self.
When she hasn't been drinking, the 26-year-old New Yorker says that she rarely does more than browse online retail sites. But give her some booze and the buying begins.
"Get some drinks in me and I'm more likely to bite the bullet and figure out where to store the crap later on," she said.
Andrea, who asked to withhold her name to protect her privacy, said she's shopped under the influence more than a dozen times, but the habit comes and goes.
"I'll do it several times over a month and then forget about it for a while," she said. "Luckily, I haven't bought or won anything terribly extravagant. Generally, I am pleasantly surprised about my purchases."
After her latest late-night spree, she said awoke to the whole Doc Savage comic book series, the movie "Popeye," with Robin Williams, the children's book "Mouse Tails," and (her favorite) the book "Statistics for the Utterly Confused."
While inebriated Internet buying may not be be an epidemic, it's also not that unusual. A spokesperson for an online retail site, who asked to speak on condition of anonymity, said that intoxicated-sounding shoppers regularly call the site's customer service asking for help placing orders.
"They're trying to get a little roadside assistance on the shopping piece," the spokesperson said, adding that sometimes the customers need technical guidance, while other times it sounds like they just want to hear a friendly voice.
Andrea said she's partial to things that remind her of childhood memories (her very first drunk purchases were the book "The Phantom Tollbooth" and a whittling kit), but, occasionally, she said she wakes up to the just plain bizarre.
"I [bid] on a plaster casting kit, which is rather surprising as I have no idea what I was thinking of doing with it," she said.
But no matter what her sober self finds in the morning, she said she never thinks of returning anything.
"[I'm] way too embarrassed," she said.
Psychologists say the habit is fairly harmless as long as people don't take it to extremes or spend extravagantly.
"Normally, when we haven't had a drink or two, our rational selves intercede between the emotion and the action and we say, 'Oh, I don't really need that' or 'Oh, I don't have the money right now,'" said John Grohol, a clinical psychologist and founder of the online mental health resource PsychCentral.com. "But alcohol takes that one step away, that rational voice away, and we go directly to the emotion and the behavior."
Shoppers Tweet, Facebook Their Purchases
Grohol said there's never been research specifically on the topic of drunk shopping, but he hears anecdotes from time to time about people who lose spending anxiety after drinking.
"What the Internet has done is provide the instantaneous access to things in our lives that we didn't use to have such easy access to," he said. "Having such great access to all these things also means that it's so much easier when you have a little less inhibition from drinking alcohol or something like that. …It's two clicks away so when you don't have those normal inhibitions working it's easier to engage in that behavior and not think twice about it."
And once they spend online, some people turn to Twitter and Facebook to confess online.
Earlier this week, one woman tweeted, "online shopping after midnight is a bad thing. it's like being drunk and eating junk food. Impossible to resist one another!"
Another man tweeted, "I drunk a bit last night, stayed up too late watching election, went online shopping and may have accidentally bought Greece."
On Facebook, one shopper said she had to cut herself off when a XXXL purple tie-dyed wolf shirt arrived at her door out of nowhere. Another said the proof was in her antler-handled cutlery.
Spending 'Fake Money'
Comedian Dan Cummins said his weakness is iTunes.
About a year ago, after a night of gin and tonics, he said he ended up on iTunes, hitting the "purchase" button over... and over... and over again.
"I just stopped thinking about what I was spending and started thinking about how much fun it would be to own all these albums," said Cummins, who will star in a Comedy Central special later his month. "The next day I was like, 'Dear God, that could be a real problem.'"
The damage wasn't too severe. Cummins, who said he's normally a one album kind of guy, ended up with about $100 worth of (or 10) albums.
And it inspired a comedy bit that he said always seems to be popular with crowds.
"It is definitely not just me. There's definitely always somebody in the audience that gets it more than the rest of the people," he said. "[There's] recognition laughter."
Drinking and shopping are both fun on their own, but aside from the fun factor he said it doesn't feel like real when you're a few cocktails in.
"That's the allure of the online shopping," he said. "You're not worried about money. ...It doesn't seem like you're spending money. It's like fake money."
Not All Tipsy Transactions Are Final
But some beer-guzzling buyers have learned that not all online purchases and bids are set in stone.
During the "Johnny Cash" phase of his college years, J.P Hester, a 25-year-old from Gainesville, Georgia, said he came home after a long night out and started clicking around on his computer.
He woke up in the morning and got a shock when he checked his e-mail and found a message reading, "Congratulations, you have won the Johnny Cash cuff links," he said."It was like $300 or something."
Thinking his new eBay acquisitions had once been owned by the Man in Black himself, he didn't panic too much at first. But when he realized that they were only cuff links with Cash's picture on them, he scrambled to e-mail the seller.
"I got the guy's name and e-mail and told him my story of how I was a poor college kid and was just blacked out," he said. "Luckily enough, he just laughed about it and said, 'I was really wondering why somebody paid so much for these.'"
What Happens When Ambien Meets eBay?
And then there are variations on the theme.
Marni, a 30-year-old from New York, said that, about four years ago, after seeing a Dyson vacuum cleaner at a friend's house, she was determined to have one of her own.
"I stalked Dysons on eBay for a while, but anytime the price was near reasonable, I was outbid at the very last second," she said.
But one night, after taking an Ambien to fight insomnia, she said she must have gotten too bold before bedtime.
"This was during a phase where I was bidding on eBay fairly frequently, so when I got to work in the morning, I checked my account. What I wasn't expecting to see was that I had bid on five Dyson vacuum cleaners the night before!," she said. "I was shocked and really nervous. If I had won all of them, I would have been responsible for $2,000 in merchandise."
Luckily, she was outbid on all of them (and her husband bought her a Dyson for Hanukkah that year).
Liquid Courage Leads to Great Adventures?
And others say that, oddly enough, their moments of boozy buying have led to some great experiences.
After heading online after a night out, Noah, 30, from New York, said he threw down $400 at 3 a.m. to score tickets to a NASCAR race.
When he woke up, he felt no remorse.
"It's one of the most highly sought after tickets on the NASCAR circuit, not an easy one to get," he said. "When I realized that tickets were still available, I jumped at the chance."
And he said he owes it all to the alcohol.
"The whiskey definitely made me do it," he said. "I would have hemmed and hawed about the $400 for a few weeks if I was sober, and then by the time I would've worked up the nerve to buy them, the race would have probably been sold out. ... [And] it was probably the most amazing live sporting event I've ever been too."