Help for the shopaholic

The urge to splurge has been one of humanity’s oldest obsessions. But, its extreme manifestation was identified as an obsessive disorder only in 1915. Labelled ‘oniomania’ (‘onios’ – ‘for sale’; ‘mania’ – ‘insanity’, in Greek), it’s now a recognised clinical disorder. Eager to know more? Here are answers to frequently asked questions.

Why is the overwhelming desire to make purchases called a disorder?
Sometimes, the love of shopping in its extreme form isn’t unlike addiction to drugs/alcohol. Some people, when emotionally upset, begin buying things (even unnecessary items) as an escape from their frustration, disappointment, hurt and humiliation. Since the very act of buying gives them a ‘high’, they start seeking refuge in shopping whenever they feel depressed. The irrational buying becomes habitual and spins out of control.

Are there any physical symptoms which indicate trouble?
Sometimes, yes. The onset of an urge to binge could be accompanied by physical symptoms characterising addiction (sweating, racing heart etc) since the act of shopping helps the brain release pleasure-inducing endorphins and dopamine. As lifestyles become more stressful, career and home-life turn more demanding and relationships collapse with alarming rapidity, more and more people are resorting to shopping for solace.

Isn’t there a trend to coin fancy labels for even ordinary behaviour?
The threat posed by compulsive buying is real. The absolute loss of control over one’s shopping habits can have devastating emotional, social, occupational and financial consequences. A persistent obsession for buying expensive things that one doesn’t need is a means of filling an emotional void. Unfortunately, the ‘high’ derived is transient and soon the vacant feeling returns with a vengeance.

The obsession abates after ashopping spree, right?
Wrong! Once the purchase is made, the buyer is assailed by guilt, to assuage which the purchased object maybe returned to the store, stashed away or even destroyed, leading to greater guilt! More mindless shopping follows in a bid to forget the agony. The circle turns into a vicious one.

Does this affect only women?
No! CBD affects both the sexes. Only they’re drawn towards different objects. While women may spend recklessly on clothes/cosmetics/jewellery to enhance appearance and thereby boost confidence, men hoard heaps of expensive gadgets they’re unlikely to ever use.

Can CBD mar relationships?
Severe CBD-sufferers conceal their purchases from the spouse, undermining the relationship. Sometimes, the unending expenditure leads to mounting debt. Revelation of these can result in divorce and social alienation.

Is there no help for CBD-sufferers?
Today, many self-help groups like Debtors Anonymous, Shopaholics Anonymous and Loose Change (free online support forum) help the CBD-afflicted to overcome their compulsive shopping habit and manage debt, through programmes modelled on Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-Step programme.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helps identify the triggers leading to the shopping urge. Treating the underlying depression through anti-depressants, particularly Selective Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), also helps.

What are the warning signals?
*The irrepressible urge to buy irrespective of need, quantity and money at your disposal
*Spending too much time/money on shopping
*Stretching your credit card to its limit
*Difficulty in managing finances
At times, people only think about shopping, not actually buying anything. Frequent, fond rumination over desirable purchases is also CBD, even if there’s no actual shopping.

Can CBD-sufferers take steps to nip the obsession in the bud?
Yes. Realising that one has CBD is half the battle won. Trying to loosen its stranglehold is the first step.

*Pay for purchases with cash/ cheque/pre-paid-debit cards
*Retain only one credit card. Don’t carry it about everywhere
*Prepare a list of only the most essential items you need.
*Confine your shopping to this list
*Develop healthy distractions from troublesome thoughts – walk, exercise, read, listen to music

Don’t:
*Surf shopping websites
*Browse catalogues/pamphlets
*Watch TV programmes on product information
*Frequent malls

What if CBD symptoms refuse to bid goodbye?
Then, it’s time to seek professional help.

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