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Professional claims shoplifting is an addiction

Over the years, the courts have started to offer different options to those struggling with addiction. People can often use drug courts, for instance, to seek treatment rather than jail time. The idea is simple: If someone uses drugs because they are addicted, they won't stop just because of the threat of fines or jail time; they need medical treatment. If you break the addiction, you stop the crime.

This is an important distinction, and equally important is understanding that it may apply to more than just drugs. For instance, some professional psychologists have noted that shoplifting has an addictive component.

One man's story

Though he wanted to stop shoplifting, and despite getting arrested for it multiple times, one man claimed that he just could not shake it. He kept going back to it repeatedly, and it caused a lot of issues in his life.

To help, he started seeing a therapist. That's when he first heard the suggestion that he was addicted. He dug into his family history a bit and discovered a history of:

  • Shame
  • Repressed anger
  • Addiction
  • Grief
  • Ignorance
  • Denial
  • Codependent relationships

In fact, he noted that his own father struggled with alcohol addiction. He started looking at his shoplifting as the same sort of addictive behavior. It just showed up differently in his life than it had in his father's.

His findings

The man went on to study the topic and even start a support group. Some of the things he learned were:

  • About 25 million people in the U.S. get involved with shoplifting
  • That's roughly 1 out of every 11 individuals
  • This activity costs stores over $10 billion annually
  • Both women and men shoplift
  • Most of those who do it (75%) are adults
  • Social and personal pressures have more to do with it than actual need
  • Money is usually not the issue

On this last point, he noted that even rich celebrities had gotten caught shoplifting. Clearly, they could afford the items they took. When you're worth millions, even something that costs hundreds of dollars is easily affordable as an impulse buy. And yet they stole anyway.

Part of the reason, he proposed, was addiction. People wanted the thrill. They needed to act out. They got addicted to things that they did not want to do and certainly did not need to do.

Your options

Do we need to consider addiction a bit more often when looking at crime rates, even for things far outside of drug crimes? It may help explain why these events happen and what to do in response. Regardless, if you get arrested, make sure you know exactly what options you have in New York.

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Suffolk County Defenders Association New York State Defenders Association | Founded 1967 New York State Bar Association Suffolk County Bar Association | NY 1908

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