Shoplifting and Sobriety

shoplifting and sobriety

When I was about 6 months sober, I began regularly stealing small items from Walmart on my lunch break. I would usually purchase a gross pre-made salad and some snacks, and pocket a protein bar or pack of gum. There was no rhyme or reason to my newly recurring pastime of perverse pilfering – I could afford to buy the small items; I just simply wasn’t taking the time to purchase them. I had gotten in trouble for shoplifting before while in college (which is why I say pastime). I attempted to steal some Emergen-C and a bottle of DayQuil from the student union one day – I was very, very sick, and very, very broke. Rather than call my mom and ask for a loan or go to the on-campus physician, I had decided that filching some medicine from a highly-monitored store was probably the best course of action. I got caught, had to pay an immense fine, was required to meet with and apologize to The Dean, and learned (or so I thought) that the consequences of shoplifting always outweighed the benefits. Yet here I was, four or five years later, appropriating Cliff Bars for no apparent reason.

Shoplifting and Recovering Addicts

I came clean to a few sober supports, including my sponsor, and eventually gave up the illicit habit in begrudging exchange for increased meeting attendance and service work. But I was left wondering why, and still to this, day, wonder… why do sober addicts and alcoholics tend to get sticky fingers? Many experts agree that those who can afford to pay for small-value items but opt to shoplift instead are acting from a place of psychological compulsion – attempting to exercise control when the perception is one of comprehensive powerlessness. Shoplifting, very similar to compulsive drug or alcohol use, is most often an internal reaction to some kind of intrinsic void, or the need to compensate for a grave emotional loss. While research has revealed a direct link between shoplifting and depression, Barbara Staib of the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention notes that, “Shoplifters are generally honest citizens.” Just like alcoholics, individuals who steal find some kind of solace in the act – they obtain a powerful rush from engaging in this potentially dangerous behavior, and may even attain some sense of temporary relief from their current emotional state.

When Drinking is No Longer an Option

For many low-bottom alcoholics, a swift return to drinking is far down on the list of options when it comes to eradicating emotional discomfort. In the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, we learn not to pick up a drink no matter what. We learn that the only thing we need to do perfectly is not drink – everything else we can work on over time. And so we commit to this; we do everything in our power to stop drinking and stay stopped. We find a sponsor, we begin working the steps, we begin taking care of our minds, bodies, and spirits in ways we never could before. But still, we are carrying around quite a bit of unresolved baggage, and until we thoroughly address it, it will continue to weigh us down. This baggage could range from childhood trauma to a long-protected familial secret; from a clandestine love affair to an undiagnosed depressive disorder. No matter what it is, until we acknowledge it and resolve it in its entirety, it is likely to come out sideways. It may come out in the form of chaos addiction, or self-pity and victimization. It may come out in the form of sexual compulsion, or of kleptomania.

Addiction and Shoplifting

Recent studies conducted on dopamine release suggest that just as some individuals become addicted to drugs and alcohol, others become chemically addicted to behaviors such as gambling, sex, overeating, or shoplifting. Stealing is a way in which individuals deal with unwanted thoughts or feelings – rather than numb out emotions with prescription pills, vodka, or heroin, some distract themselves by engaging in irrational theft. Many recovering addicts will turn to shoplifting as a way to cope with uncomfortable feelings that have begun to arise in sobriety. Rather than continuously run from these feelings, engaging in any self-destructive act that will distract us for any length of time, it is important that we work to address and resolve unpleasant moods and mindsets. The legal system dictates that those who commit crimes receive the appropriate consequences – and no court will excuse us for ‘trying our hardest but still having a little bit of work to do’.

If you are in recovery for alcoholism or drug addiction and you find that you have been ‘acting out’ in other ways, the most likely reason is that you still have some remaining internal work. Take an honest look at whether or not you have put everything out on the table – baggage, deep-seated secrets, potential underling disorders – all of it. Until you deal with all of it deeply, thoroughly, and entirely honestly, bits and pieces are liable to rear their heads in other ways. Treating trauma and addiction comprehensively is crucial to eradicating all addictive disorders. We at Next Chapter truly believe this, and we have structured our program of recovery around this belief. For more information, please call us today at 561-563-8406.