Shopaholics, shoplifters battle with addiction

Lyndsay Elliott

Photo illustration by Caitlin Prarat

Credit: DKS Editors

Joining 25 million other American shoplifters, one Kent State student began his shoplifting career in fourth grade.

“My friend and I would go to the local store and he would take the clerk to the back to get something while I reached around the counter to grab cigarettes, then I would run out,” the student said.

Although the senior youth development major no longer partakes in the five-finger discount, he doesn’t want his name printed.

The student is one out of 11 people in America who shoplift, the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention estimates. Shoplifting costs retailers more than $10 billion a year.

“Some people steal an item once and have terrible feelings of regret,” said Gene Brodland, professor emeritus at Southern Illinois University. “But then there are others who repeatedly shoplift because it has become an addiction.”

Brodland, who specializes in obsessive compulsive disorders, said shoplifting addicts feel compelled to take things because they can easily grab what they want, and they get a rush of excitement from stealing.

“Shoplifting makes the addict feel excited and energized because the risk of getting caught gives them a high,” he said.

The student said his first time stealing cigarettes triggered his addiction because stealing was easy.

“I got more confident and would go for bigger and bigger stores,” he said. “Stealing was a high for me – a huge rush.”

Developing a habit over many years, shoplifters are similar to alcoholics, Brodland said.

“Shoplifters, just like alcoholics, think a little is good, so more is better,” Brodland said.

Shoplifters come from a variety of backgrounds – some are poor, but some are wealthy. Low self-esteem is prevalent among them, and many are shocked when they’re caught, Brodland said.

He said shoplifters believe they can’t get in trouble for doing something they usually can get away with. Other people feel they are entitled to have an item because it is owed to them.

“I felt like society owed me because I was getting screwed in life,” said the anonymous source.

He said he never thought about getting caught until he got busted stealing shoes when he was 17. He was marched through the mall in handcuffs past his friends.

He said the embarrassment of the incident and the way people treated him after finding out he was a shoplifter helped him stop.

Brodland said shoplifters can cure their addiction by attending support groups and seeking therapy.

“It is a deep, dark secret an addict keeps, and it leads to self-doubt in relation to their worthiness as a person. They basically feel like a low-life,” Brodland said.

Kent Police Capt. Michelle Lee said shoplifting is a misdemeanor charge if the amount stolen is under $500, but it is a felony if that amount is exceeded.

The student said he had easily stolen more than $2-3 thousand worth of merchandise when he was a shoplifter.

“There are times now when I walk into a store that I feel the urge to take something,” he said. “There will always be the excitement of wondering if I can still get away with it.”

Contact fashion and College of Education, Health and Human Services reporter Lyndsay Elliott at [email protected].


College students can easily become shopaholics, said Gene Brodland, professor emeritus at Southern Illinois University.

Shopaholics, also known as compulsive shoppers, are addicted to shopping and buying merchandise.

Students become addicted due to credit card offers and the desire to reward themselves with something, Brodland said.

“People who suffer from shopping addiction have an obsession with making purchases in order to feel better emotionally,” he said.

Lauren Strum, freshman at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and diagnosed shopaholic, said she shops after having a bad day.

“I’m good at managing my shopping money,” Strum said. “But if I run out, I get angry and upset because I can’t buy what I want.”

Strum has borrowed money from friends to pay for clothing she couldn’t afford at the time.

Brodland said people suffer from this addiction for two reasons: It helps their self-esteem, and it lowers their anxiety.

“It’s like buying a new car,” Brodland said. “At first you feel great as you drive out of the dealership, but then you get home and several days later the newness and happy feeling disappears.”

To get the feeling again, shopaholics buy more. For the less wealthy, these repeated expenditures end in debt.

“The wealthy have more money to feed their addiction, where as the other people turn to credit cards and borrowing money,” said Brodland, who is also a clinical psychiatrist.

Brodland said credit cards enable addicts because they can spend money without paying upfront for the purchase.

“Shopping addicts end up in bankruptcy because they will spend money on anything to make themselves feel better,” he said.

Women are often stereotyped as being big shoppers, but Brodland said men aren’t too far behind.

“For the men it’s like the saying, ‘the guy who dies with the most toys wins,'” said Brodland.

He said women spend money on small items, such as clothing and household things, but men spend close to the same amount on large items, such as boats and cars.

“As with any addict, if buying something makes them feel better they will continue doing it,” Brodland said.

He said treatment for this type of addiction is therapy, not medication. Shopaholics must come to terms with themselves and their addiction in order to deal with the problem.

– Lyndsay Elliott