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What is Kleptomania?

Kleptomania is considered to be a type of Impulse Control Disorder in which an individual has the urge to steal items. However, they steal items that have such little value or that they don’t even need. In fact, in many occasions the individual will steal the item, put it away, and never use it. Furthermore, such condition is rare, it is important to note that it is a serious mental health disorder and that about two thirds of Kleptomania cases involve women. Even though individuals may try their best to not engage in such behaviors, it is something that they cannot control. The individual cannot control the temptation to steal, which in turn can emotionally affect not only the individual, but their loved ones.

In addition, such behaviors and actions occur without planning them and occasionally, without the help of others. Such behaviors tend to occur in public places (i.e. stores) however, individuals may also steal from their loved ones.

What are the symptoms of Kleptomania?

  • An individual cannot resist the powerful urges to steal items that they do not need
  • An individual begins to feel tension, anxiety, or arousal that may in turn lead to theft
  • After stealing, the individual may feel pleasure, relief, or a sense of accomplishment
  • An individual begins to have a fear of getting arrested
  • An individual expresses feeling of shame, guilt, or remorse
  • An individual returns to the urges

What causes Kleptomania?

Although the exact known cause is not known, the following are thought to be contributing factors to the development of such condition:

  • Problems with naturally occurring chemicals known as serotonin
    • Serotonin helps regulate an individuals’ mood and emotions
  • Existing Addictive Disorders
  • The brain’s opioid system
    • Such urges are regulated by this system
  • Family history
    • If an individual has a first degree relative (i.e. parent or sibling), the individual is more likely to develop the condition. In addition, if such individuals or their relatives have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Alcohol, or any other substance abuse disorder, then the individual is also at higher risk.
  • Comorbidity with other mental illnesses (i.e. Bipolar Disorder, Eating Disorder, or Anxiety Disorders)

How is Kleptomania treated?

Although individuals do not tend to seek help because of humiliation or shame for example, it is important for them to seek help from a professional to overcome such disorder. They will not do it on their own. However, when treatment is sought, the following may be used:

  • Medications
    • Although there has not been an approved medication to treat such condition, medications can be used to treat other disorders that can exist along with it (i.e. depression or substance misuse)
  • Psychotherapy
    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
      • Such therapy helps an individual identify their negative thoughts to then replace them with positive ones. The following techniques may be used:
        • Covert Sensitization
          • An individual may imagine that they are stealing, but with a negative outcome (i.e. they get caught)
        • Aversion Therapy
          • An individual may engage in mildly painful techniques (i.e. holding their breath every time they have the urge to steal until they don’t feel comfortable anymore)
        • Systematic Desensitization
          • An individual makes use of relaxation techniques where they may picture that they are controlling their urges to steak

How can I or someone I know cope with Kleptomania?

  • Stick to your treatment plan and/or ensure that your loved one does
  • Educate yourself & loved ones
  • Identify the triggers
  • Learn relaxation and stress management techniques
  • Remain focused on your goal
  • Emphasize your support for your loved ones