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Updated: October 9, 2010 21:29 IST

Attention, shopaholics!

BENITA SEN
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Shopping mania: When do you stop? Photo: Special Arrangement
Shopping mania: When do you stop? Photo: Special Arrangement

Is retail therapy the only thing you are indulging in of late and pretty often too? Then you better watch out for you might be heading for oniomania...

Urvashi Singh* day dreams about shopping. Growing up in a moneyed but simple home, Urvashi, 19, shops five evenings a week. The only two she stays away are for Accounts tuitions. Like a growing number of young people across India, Urvashi does not realise she has compulsive shopping disorder or oniomania (from the Greek onios or xnios for sale).

Shopping obsession

Her parents first tried to reason with her. Now, they just let her be because if she cannot shop, she throws tantrums and accuses them of being stingy. Dr. Samir Parikh, psychiatrist, Chief, Department of Mental Health, Max Healthcare Delhi points out that teens hooked to shopping may even filch money when deprived of shopping. Each time the issue comes up, she brings up their simple lifestyle that she believes was looked down upon by her friends.

Prachit Kumar*, 18, can empathise with that. Not a bright student, he suddenly found people turning to him for a new “knowledge.” He knows what to shop for, the best bargains and the best shopping addresses in town. Like Urvashi, Prachit is a walking city guide on shopping. When you point out that it takes above-average intelligence to process all that, he ascribes it to his “passion”: shopping. He even justifies it. “My friends are crazy about music, movies, studies, money, booze. My craze is shopping.”

In the blink of unreal neon lights, aggressive advertising and pretty packaging, more and more of us are shopping on impulse. As Dr. Parikh points out, rise of consumerism, peer pressure, media campaigns and parenting styles also drive a person to the comfort of shopping. Dr Shelja Sen, Child and Adolescent Psychologist and Family Therapist, Children First, Delhi, terms it ‘affluenza'. “It primarily originated in affluent western countries and now is spreading to the developing countries. Various causes of it could be OCD, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, anxiety, depression or even highly indulgent parenting styles.”

Ask yourself

Most of us have given in to an occasional rash buy. But are you heading for oniomania? Psychiatrists say the disorder may begin in the teens but may not be recognised till the person is much older. But there are pointers. Is shopping your only high? Do you go shopping to keep your friends happy or to have something to say to them? Does your favourite four-letter word begin with an S, end with an E and also have the letters A and L? Do you come home to wallow in guilt? Do you pay by plastic? Do you swear by advertisements and sales? Do you buy a pair of jeans because your best friend has one? Are you happy only when you buy, even if it is stuff you may never use?

Compulsive shoppers see shopping as a sense of power but in reality, it is their lack of it that leads them to buy. The results affect confidence, finance and relationships. While an ‘attack' may follow a pattern of feeling blue, shopping, feeling confident and guilt and depression, many oniomaniacs may not suffer much guilt.

Is there a way out? Says Senior Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Sanjay Chugh, “If the family can identify and work on it immediately, the child can be saved from long-term emotional damage.” He and other mental health specialists advise professional help. Oniomania can be the forefront of other emotional issues.

Agrees Rajni Bhatia*, 17, who notched up huge bills just before her Board results, “I was a nervous wreck. Then, my cousin who is studying psychology, dragged me to a psychiatrist. I made conscious changes. Today, that phase is behind me.”

Fight it!

Ways to fight that pick-up urge:

Recognise you have a problem.

Stay away from malls/markets. Go, instead, to a hobby class.

Carry limited cash or debit card rather than credit cards.

Going shopping? Make out a list. Stick to it.

See advertisements for what they are: selling gimmicks.

* Names changed

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