What Is Compulsive Stealing Addiction?

Although kleptomania (cleptomania) and compulsive stealing addiction are often thought to be one and the same, there are actually some important differences between them. Both conditions involve stealing, but the cause and motivation behind each differ in some important ways. Kleptomania has usually been considered to be a mental illness, although some in the psychiatric field believe it to be a part of some greater, more serious condition.

Most people consider that addiction only applies to substance addiction, such as dependency on drugs or alcohol, but it is now recognized that there are behavioral addictions as well, and this applies to stealing as well as other behavior addictions such as gambling. When trying to decide whether stealing has become addictive, there are two criteria that clear up the question succinctly:

  • Does the behavior cause harm of any kind to the person? If compulsive stealing is causing a negative impact, then it is an addiction.
  • Does the stealing persist despite resolutions and promises to self and others to stop?
    The Symptoms of Compulsive Stealing Addiction

First and foremost, of course, is the stealing. Those with this condition usually start off shoplifting in a limited way. The motivation behind the stealing is not need, but generally has its roots in anger, frustration, and disappointment with life. The stealing addict often plots his or her shoplifting goals before heading out to the store – in most cases there is little spontaneity to the stealing, unlike a true kleptomaniac. The stealing addict will usually use the objects that have been stolen, generally choosing items that have some real use in their lives, but a kleptomaniac will steal anything that happens to catch their eye, very like a magpie.

It is likely that most people who shoplift may do it briefly and then stop, either on their own or because they are caught. However, the stealing addict finds it almost impossible to stop, and continues until apprehended or treatment is sought. Prior to stealing, both addicts and kleptomaniacs will feel that tension and pressure is building within them. The addict will experience a high degree of pleasure and satisfaction when actually stealing, so it’s possible that a release of endorphins may contribute to the development of compulsive stealing; if something makes you feel happy, you are going to be likely to repeat it.

Unlike a true criminal, most compulsive stealing addicts are normal in other respects. They often have families, jobs, and a place in their community. In addition to simply ‘getting used’ to stealing, the condition often arises when the addict has been put under some kind of monetary pressure – unexpected bills or a reduction in pay might trigger this behavior. Another distinguishing factor from the true kleptomaniac is that while a ‘klepto’ does not feel sorry or guilty for stealing, the stealing addict will be remorseful and ashamed.

How Stealing Addiction Affects the Addict

The possibility of being spotted by store personnel when stealing adds a very unwelcome layer of complication to the addict’s life. At the very least, the person will be forbidden entry to the store, but in most cases the police will be called and the compulsive stealer arrested.

Once mired in the legal system, court dates, lawyers, an expenditure of money, embarrassment, and probation or time in jail will follow. A great deal of the sentencing will depend upon the cost of the stolen item and whether the person is a ‘repeat performer’. Compulsive stealing addiction causes profound difficulties to the life not only of the addict, but also to family members. Those who are compulsive shoplifters often alleviate their feelings of guilt and remorse by substance abuse, furthering their downward spiral.

Treatment Programs

It is possible for the compulsive stealing addict to leave their addiction behind and go on to a happier life. Organizations to help with this problem, such as Cleptomaniacs and Shoplifters Anonymous, have modeled themselves on AA, and help people overcome their addiction with a 12 step program.

Treatment is also available from therapists who can not only help with dealing with feelings of anger and resentment, which are often at the root of compulsive stealing, but also build self-esteem. In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help the addict overcome the problem and gain more control over his or her life.

As with most addictions, whether substance or behavioral, the sooner help is sought, the easier will be the cure.

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