Kleptomania is a mental health disorder characterized by the repeated inability to resist urges to steal items that are generally not needed. The stolen items often have little value, and the person affected could afford to buy them. Kleptomania is rare but can be a serious condition, causing emotional pain to the individual and their loved ones, and potentially leading to legal problems if left untreated.
Kleptomania is classified as an impulse control disorder, meaning it involves difficulties with emotional or behavioral self-control. Those with this disorder struggle to resist the temptation or powerful urge to perform an act that may be excessive or harmful to themselves or others.
Treatment for kleptomania may include medication or skill-building therapy that focuses on dealing with urges to help break the cycle of compulsive stealing. Although there’s no cure for kleptomania, seeking appropriate treatment can aid in managing the condition.
Kleptomania symptoms may include an inability to resist powerful urges to steal items not needed, increased tension, anxiety, or arousal leading up to the theft, pleasure or relief while stealing, and feelings of guilt, remorse, self-loathing, shame, or fear of arrest after the theft. The cycle of kleptomania may involve the return of urges and repetition of stealing episodes.
People with kleptomania typically have specific features or characteristics, such as stealing without personal gain or premeditation, stealing from public places or acquaintances, stashing away stolen items, and experiencing varying intensities of urges over time.
If you find yourself unable to stop shoplifting or stealing, it’s essential to seek medical advice. Many people with kleptomania may be hesitant to seek treatment due to fear of arrest or legal consequences, but mental health providers generally don’t report thefts to authorities.
Seek medical help if you’re concerned about getting caught, have legal problems related to stealing, or have already been arrested and are required to seek treatment.
If you suspect a loved one may have kleptomania, approach them with care and understanding, emphasizing your concern for their health and well-being and the potential risks of compulsive stealing. Treatments are available to help minimize the urge to steal and address issues related to addiction and shame.
The exact causes of kleptomania are not known, but several theories suggest that changes in the brain and learned patterns of stealing may play a role in the development of this disorder. Research indicates a possible link to problems with serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters, the brain’s opioid system, and the formation of strong habits.
Kleptomania risk factors may include a family history of the disorder or addictive disorders, as well as coexisting mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or substance use disorders.
Untreated kleptomania can lead to severe emotional, family, work, legal, and financial problems. The affected person may experience feelings of guilt, shame, self-loathing, and humiliation due to their compulsive stealing. Additionally, kleptomania may be associated with other impulse-control disorders, substance misuse, personality disorders, eating disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and even suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Since the exact causes of kleptomania are unclear, prevention methods are not well-defined. Seeking treatment as soon as compulsive stealing behaviors begin may help prevent the condition from worsening and mitigate some of the negative consequences associated with it.
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Kleptomania is diagnosed based on your symptoms. When seeking treatment for possible kleptomania, you may undergo both a physical exam and psychological evaluation. The physical exam helps rule out any medical causes that may trigger your symptoms.
As kleptomania is an impulse control disorder, your mental health provider may ask questions about your impulses and feelings, review situations that trigger kleptomania episodes, discuss problems caused by this behavior, and have you fill out questionnaires or self-assessments. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) guidelines are also used to help pinpoint a diagnosis.
Although fear, humiliation, or embarrassment may make it difficult to seek treatment for kleptomania, getting help is crucial. Kleptomania is challenging to overcome on your own and can be an ongoing, long-term condition without treatment.
Treatment for kleptomania often involves a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and self-help groups. Medicines like naltrexone or antidepressants may be prescribed, depending on your situation and any coexisting mental health disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common form of psychotherapy that helps identify and replace unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones. Skill-building techniques like systematic desensitization, counter-conditioning, and aversion therapy may be used to control kleptomania urges.
Relapses in kleptomania are not uncommon, so it’s important to follow your treatment plan and reach out for support when needed.
While receiving professional treatment, you can use healthy coping skills to take care of yourself, such as following your treatment plan, educating yourself about kleptomania, identifying triggers, seeking treatment for substance misuse or other mental health problems, finding healthy outlets, practicing relaxation and stress management techniques, staying focused on recovery goals, being honest with loved ones, and using the “buddy system” for support.
Loved ones can provide support by attending therapy sessions, taking care of their own needs, and participating in self-help groups based on 12-step programs.
Participating in self-help groups based on 12-step programs or addiction meetings may benefit those with kleptomania. Even if there are no specific groups for kleptomania, other self-help groups can still provide valuable support.
If you suspect you have kleptomania, talk to your healthcare provider. Be honest about your symptoms and consider taking a trusted family member or friend along to help remember details. Prepare by listing any symptoms, personal information, medical history, medications, and questions to ask your provider.
Some questions to ask your provider may include inquiring about treatments, possible side effects of medication, treatment duration, and how your family can support your treatment.
During the appointment, your mental health provider may ask about your history with kleptomania, including when it started, the frequency of urges, feelings before, during, and after stealing, triggers, stolen items, and the impact on your life.