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Shoplifting, why having empathy and understanding is important

With the constant increase in the cost of living, shoplifting has seen an increase by 22% in the last year. (ONS, 2023) There are many reasons why perpetrators shop lift, let’s take a look into the plethora of factors that affect the decision making process of someone who decides to shoplift.

Mentioned above, many people are suffering from financial difficulties in life and thus feel that they want certain items but can’t afford them, shoplifting is a way of gaining these items without losing out on other things such as food, rent and bills.

Many people like the thrill or excitement of shoplifting. This is sometimes coupled with peer pressure, especially amongst teenagers. Young people may want to fit in with their friends or gain respect from doing something so ‘daring’.

The reality is that thrill and excitement feel good, especially for individuals with poor mental health. This can lead to perpetrators becoming addicted to that rush and therefore continue shoplifting. In these situations the person is not necessarily addicted to shoplifting itself but merely the adrenaline that comes with the act.

Examples of celebrities struggling with their mental health, such as Lindsay Lohan in 2011 stealing a $2500 necklace, who could have afforded the things she stole is a prime example of not doing it for the material gains. The media and public were quick to respond without much consideration for what she was going through and her motives for committing the act. After the news came out of her struggles it was evident that there were a range of reasons for her deciding to behave in such a way.

Of course people can become addicted to the gaining of material possessions, that need for the newest handbag or freshest trainers for some people, outweighs the risk of doing something illegal and getting caught.

Have you worked with someone as part of your role who has shoplifted or could be identified as at risk of committing an offence? Via our intervention hub we offer an in depth, evidence based and CBT lead approach to shoplifting that can educate at-risk individuals, signpost them to sources of support and prevent individuals from shoplifting again.

People shoplift for various reasons, and it’s important to note that each individual’s motivation might be unique. Here are some common reasons why people engage in shoplifting:

  • Financial Difficulties: Some individuals might be facing financial hardships and might see shoplifting as a way to obtain items they can’t afford. This could be due to poverty, unemployment, or other financial challenges.
  • Impulse: Impulsive behavior can lead some people to shoplift without much thought. They might act on a whim without considering the consequences.
  • Thrill or Excitement: Some individuals engage in shoplifting for the thrill and excitement it provides. The act of stealing can create an adrenaline rush for them.
  • Peer Pressure or Social Influence: Peer pressure can play a significant role, especially among teenagers. Wanting to fit in with a certain group or gain approval from peers might drive some individuals to shoplift.
  • Mental Health Issues: Certain mental health conditions, such as kleptomania, can lead to compulsive stealing. People with kleptomania experience an irresistible urge to steal, often without any financial motive.
  • Addiction: Similar to other behaviors, shoplifting can become addictive for some individuals. The act of stealing can trigger a dopamine response in the brain, reinforcing the behavior.
  • Disregard for Authority or Rules: Some people might shoplift as an act of rebellion against authority or societal norms. This could be more common among adolescents.
  • Desire for Material Possessions: A strong desire to own particular items, even if unaffordable, can lead some individuals to steal rather than go without those items.
  • Lack of Consequences: In some cases, individuals might shoplift because they believe there’s a low likelihood of getting caught and facing consequences.
  • Coping Mechanism: For some people, shoplifting might serve as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, or emotional distress. The act of stealing might provide a temporary distraction from their problems.



Office for National Statistics. 2023. Shoplifting Stats for 2022/2023. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/. [Accessed 17 August 2023].

Washington Post. 2023. Mental Health & Shoplifting. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/wellness/2022/09/26/shoplifting-depression-mental-health/. [Accessed 17 August 2023].

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