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Shoplifting – Is It Really an Addiction?


We all have our own personal views on what constitutes an addiction. Most would agree that drug abuse, alcoholism and prescription drug dependency fall into the addiction category. There is no gain with these addictions, which can destroy lives, health, and finances and bring severe repercussions on nearest and dearest.

Shoplifting, on the other hand, does produce gain, by acquiring items illicitly.

Some people shoplift and sell to make ends meet, as certain sectors of society becomes more impoverished due to the financial climate. Taking food, baby items and other essentials is sometimes the only way for some to survive. Peer pressure can push people into criminal activities just to keep up with friends and social status, with teenagers accounting for most of this kind of theft.

Those suffering from kleptomania make impulsive and often careless attempts at shoplifting, often stealing for no reason and taking completely irrelevant items.  Classed as an impulse control disorder, kleptomania often goes hand-in-hand with other problems such as anxiety and eating disorder.

Stealing For an Addiction

The need for drug money can propel some into stealing to fuel their addiction. This is steadily becoming one of the main reasons for shoplifting activities, with stolen items being sold or traded for illegal drugs. Theft of food is also common as all finances are directed towards buying drugs leaving nothing left over for everyday life. In worst-case scenarios shoplifting will be replaced by violent crime as the drug dependency increases.

True Addiction

A truly compulsive shoplifter does not steal for gain and frequently gives away stolen merchandise to friends or family. Whilst the “buzz” of adrenalin is often part of the addiction it can be counteracted by horrendous feelings of guilt or shame after the act of theft is committed. The addiction develops quickly when the discovery is made that the “rush” experienced helps to temporarily relieve feelings of depression, anger or boredom. The need to experience a “high” is satisfied with the adrenalin rush for a short period and then the urge to feel good once again becomes a craving.

Whilst theft cannot be condoned, the act is usually a cover-up for a deep unease, feelings of self-loathing or unworthiness, often created by a bad life experience or trauma. Being caught is often a terrifying experience but can create an opportunity to get some help. The addiction may never be cured until the reason behind it is exposed and treated. Once some understanding of the pressures that trigger shoplifting incidents are revealed the chances of repeating the offence drop immediately. “Offence-specific” educational programmes teach how to substitute the “high” with “natural highs” such as reading a good book, having a pampering session or calling a friend. Support groups are available to help during recovery from shoplifting addiction, providing a safe non-judgemental environment and coping mechanisms and tools for recovery. Additionally, medical intervention may be required if the problem has been instigated by a mental-health issue.

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