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Sunday 23 September 2018

More Irish shopaholics are seeking professional help

NIAMH HORAN

AN increasing number of people are seeking professional help for a shopping addiction as a result of Ireland's continuous obsession with consumerism and wealth.

A growing number of shopaholics, who have a compulsive shopping addiction they deem to be beyond their control, are presenting themselves to psychologists to seek help for their spending sprees.

Addiction expert Colin O'Driscoll says shopping addicts are increasing in numbers as a result of Ireland's move towards a society devoted to material possessions and commercialism.

"It has definitely become more common. The age of consumerism is upon us -- and I think that with material wealth becoming more important to people, it's not unusual to see someone with a shopping addiction coming in for treatment."

Mr O'Driscoll, who has worked at the famous Priory Clinic in Britain and is now heading up the Forest addiction centre in Co Wicklow, explains how compulsive shoppers often go on spending sprees to counter depression -- only to suffer intense guilt as a result.

"Shopaholics would be similar to people with other addictions where a low mood or feeling of inadequacy would be treated with something, in this case shopping. This creates a feeling of a high which in turn can be followed by a low or guilt."

The addiction expert explains how this then provokes another frenzied shopping spree, and then the cycle just continues.

"The psychological components associated with it are very similar to other addictions. People tend to push it underground and hide their purchases from others. This 'secret shopping' usually happens at the point where somebody realises it's becoming problematic."

Other symptoms include hoarding clothes, shopping sprees resulting in debt and marital discord and a preoccupation with shopping to the point that it is consistently on suffers' minds and regularly needs to be satisfied.

As Mr O'Driscoll explains, "shopping beyond necessity and hoarding to the point that a person just adds them to a collection of things, are both significant features of the problem. You'd often see a lot of tags still on a person's clothes in the wardrobe, with some items not even taken out of the bag -- that type of thing."

However, Mr O' Driscoll says it can be difficult to recognise an individual who has this particular type of addiction because, as with excessive drinking, it has become normalised in Irish society.

"It is difficult to detect because this is something that is becoming normalised in our society. So, for example, if you're walking down Grafton Street and you come across people who are excessively shopping or laden down with shopping bags, you're not going to notice anything that's different because in some ways we're all shopping way, way more than we need to."

But he says people can beat the problem with various forms of treatment such as motivational interviewing.

"It certainly wouldn't be an easy thing to give up. But from our point of view, the treatment we would use is a motivational approach, where we would establish what a person's unique motivation towards change is and then develop their confidence in their ability to bring about that change. Most of the patients at Forest, rated their progress between 75 to 100 per cent after being treated with this technique."

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