shoplifting addiction and recovery

Compulsive or repetitive shoplifting is a serious problem, which often results in unwanted consequences in a person’s life.

At Northbound, we recognize the severity of this disorder and have proven therapeutic interventions to assist individuals engaging in this behavior.

Too often, people ignore the evidence of shoplifting addiction, dismissing it as a risky teenage “phase” or seeing only the criminal consequences instead of the considering the psychological implications. But whether an individual has been drawn to shoplifting because of the sense of excitement it brings or because he or she sees it as a kind of game, it can quickly become a habit and then addiction—one that is difficult to stop without support.

A shoplifting addict may not have the typical characteristics of someone who is chemically dependent, but it is a serious and damaging addiction with terrible consequences. As is the case with so many addictions, the shoplifting addict uses the behavior as a way to cope with mental pain.

Childhood Trauma

It is well known that childhood trauma can often lead to a high probability of relationship problems and addictive or compulsive behavior in adulthood, as the adult struggles to cope with the pain. One of the results can be an adult who is stuck in a pattern of immature thinking, feeling, and behavior. Because of his or her immature relationship with the world, the shoplifting addict acts out by stealing from “big corporations.”

But there is more to it than just immature thinking.

A shoplifting addict does not steal because of economic need or to make a political statement—or even because they really want the items they steal. Instead, that desire to steal often stems from the need to reduce anxiety. Many recovering addicts say they get stimulation, satisfaction and release during the actual act of stealing. In other words, stealing creates a “high” by stimulating the pleasure center of the brain. Therefore, when stressed or feeling down, the shoplifting addict tries to treat that anxiety by stealing.

The psychological similarities between shoplifting addiction and alcohol and drug addiction cannot be ignored.

Who Suffers

Sadly, shoplifting addictions are becoming increasingly common. The condition does not discriminate by race, gender, culture or creed, although studies have found that it occurs most frequently among young women. Because its psychological roots in addiction are difficult to see and understand, shoplifting addiction often goes untreated, with individuals attempting to address the problem by simply trying to stop the behavior. However, when they try to stop stealing on their own, their addictive behavior often shifts to other addictive tendencies, especially eating disorders and drug addiction. It is for this reason that the best chance at achieving freedom from addictive/compulsive behavior requires proper treatment.

How We Heal

At Northbound, psychotherapeutic treatment of shoplifting addiction frequently involves one-on-one time with a therapist, where the client can get in touch with the inner tension that urges her to steal. Our therapists will help the client understand and address her psychological pain. Healing from within makes it much easier for the addict to find a healthier way of dealing with anxiety, giving her the tools she needs to make rational choices.

In addition, Northbound helps shoplifting addicts free themselves by directing them to the best possible 12-step program for them. This program is integrated by Northbound’s highly experienced staff as part of an individualized treatment plan developed in conjunction with the individual therapist. Research has shown that this approach to treatment is more effective in helping shoplifting addiction than traditional recovery methods.

Customized Care

Northbound’s practice of creating a customized and unique treatment program that includes both cognitive behavioral and psychodynamic/process-oriented group therapies gives the client the absolute best chance at beating their compulsion. We teach life-skills, how to deal with relationship difficulties, how to avoid relapse, and how to develop emotional pathways. In addition, we also address two of the most difficult and critical coping skills: dealing with grief, loss and codependency. Because Northbound is addressing the shoplifting addiction along with any other disorders or addictions, it is unlikely that the client will sublimate the stealing compulsion into another harmful behavior.

Recovery is an ongoing process. Northbound has developed immersive treatment programs to restore mental health and free clients from compulsive behaviors. Northbound’s contracted psychiatrists and staff psychotherapists treat clients in a residential and outpatient setting.