Compulsive Stealing and the Holidays


Article from Pathways Institute for impulse Control

The holiday season is here with expectations and hopes of warmth, laughter and closeness with friends and family.   And yet at the same time more people are tempted to shoplift and are arrested for shoplifting during the Christmas holiday season than at other time of the year. Why?  


Here are just a few reasons for increased shoplifting during the holidays:

  • • Spending more time in stores
  • • Feeling pressured to get gifts
  • • Financial worry and stress due to increase spending at holidays
  • • More store security presence in stores
  • • More store clerks and associates working
  • • Family stress due to holiday commitments and expectations
  • • Unhappy and painful memories of losses during holidays
  • • Unrealistic expectations of self and others during holidays
  • • More alcohol consumption, which is disinhibiting and increases impulsivity

There are larger time, familial, social, professional and financial demands at this time of year and as a result most of us feel an increase of stress.  The increase of stress is particularly challenging and difficult for those who have impulse disorders which are made worse by increased stress.  The ability to resist impulses rests on the ability to decrease stress in one’s life.

So, this is a time to be aware of the stress and make the necessary changes to insure you won’t have a shoplifting slip or relapse.  Here are a few suggestions for getting through the holiday season without a stealing incident:

  • • Make a list of people you plan to give gifts to and stick to it.
  • • Create a budget that is realistic and won’t leave you financially stressed.
  • • Can you do your shopping through catalogs or online?
  • • Create a list of gifts, write it down, and include reminders that keep you mindful of the consequences of stealing such as:  handcuffs, police, bail or jail.  Keep that list in one hand as you are shopping.
  • • Don’t browse or linger in stores.
  • • Ask for help if you can’t find something in order to stop yourself from spending too much time in the store.
  • • Shop with a trusted family member or friend.
  • • Make your gifts.
  • • Be honest with yourself and others if you can’t afford to buy gifts or go to events.  There is no shame in keeping your feet planted squarely in reality!
  • • Volunteer at a local organization and let others know that your gift for them is a few hours of time in their honor.
  • • Talk in your support groups, with trusted friends, trusted family or therapy about your feelings about the holidays and gift giving.
  • • Reach out for professional help.
  • • Commit not to stealing gifts, you need to keep yourself safe
  • • You can ride out the urge to steal.  Make yourself a cup of tea, take a bath, call friend, go for a walk, do something to help you relax.  The craving and urge will pass.
  • • Remember most family members and friends would not want to receive a stolen gift.  If a family member or friend is ok with you risking your safety to give them something then you are in a destructive and likely co-dependent relationship.  They are enabling your stealing and you are enabling an unhealthy relationship pattern.  Get professional help to break the harmful cycle.

You, your recovery, and your safety is so much more important that “giving” that which you don’t have, want or need to give.  The most important gift you can give yourself and those who love you is the maintenance of your sobriety and recovery from stealing.  Try to remember this time of year is traditionally a time to turn inward, reflect, rest and renew yourself.

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