Confessions of a Kleptomaniac
Continued from previous page
Of course, substance use causes stealing for practical reasons: "I've estimated that about 15-20% of people who chronically shoplift or steal are doing so primarily to support an underlying drug and/or alcohol habit," says Shulman. But does the relationship go deeper? The fact that I started stealing long before I took drugs suggests to me that it does. "Compulsive stealing may be associated with substance addictions in that they both are a self-medication for deeper emotional issues," says Gardere. "Scientifically, the unconditioned stimulus which is drugs brings an unconditioned response, which is being high. Eventually the conditioned stimulus becomes stealing, and the conditioned response becomes getting high. In essence, stealing has been paired with drugs for so long that stealing alone becomes the high." And Shulman confirms that "I have worked with many recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who've reported to me that even after they've gotten clean and sober, they still have struggled with compulsive stealing."
By the age of 16, I was smoking half an ounce of high-grade cannabis every week. I sold it, rolled it and smoked it all day. In the mornings I'd open my eyes, confused and cotton-headed, roll off my bed, slide a Marilyn Manson CD into the player and open my draw to check I still had weed. One day, the draw was empty. Panic. My first thought was to steal the 20 UK pounds I needed for an eighth. Weed was my cloaking device and going to school without it was unthinkable, so I slunk into my dad’s office. I opened his top drawer and felt rotten. I opened his wallet: Shit! Only 15 pounds. I remember thinking, "He’s bound to notice if I take it all," and taking it all, anyway. Then I crept into my brother’s room to make up the other 5 pounds from his carefully hoarded coins. My guts felt like they'd turned to stone.