Kleptomania is a rare mental illness you may rarely hear about, but an existing mental illness that should be taken seriously. A person with kleptomania may be embarrassed to admit their urges to steal and unaware of the disorder’s existence. And the worst-case scenario? They may end up facing legal consequences because of the stealing.

Should a person with kleptomania be embarrassed by their behavior? No, because kleptomania is an impulsive control disorder. Much like obsessive-compulsive disorder, it can’t be controlled.

No one wants to steal willingly. That’s why people diagnosed with kleptomania deserve to be heard and treated.

Do you think you have kleptomania? Or do you have a loved one you’re concerned about having kleptomania? It’s never too late to address any psychiatric disorders. Read further to learn more about the disease and its treatment options.

What Is Kleptomania?

Kleptomania is a mental illness characterized as an impulse control disorder where a person cannot resist the urge to take or steal items. A person with kleptomania steals things they don’t actually need but can afford to buy.

In some cases, they steal something with little or no monetary value at all. But why do they steal it? Because they can’t control the urge.

They experience tension if they can’t take the item, and the tension will only be relieved once they take the item. Some may be fully aware of the negative consequences, but they cannot stop themselves. If kleptomania is left untreated, it can lead to many problems like family issues, strains in relationships, legal consequences, and financial constraints.  

Since kleptomania involves stealing, the disorder may not be diagnosed correctly. The person may face legal charges, be arrested for stealing, and be embarrassed to seek support.

Furthermore, since kleptomania is uncommon, some people with the disorder may never have the chance to seek treatment and the opportunity to receive medical advice. Kleptomania often begins during the early teenage years, and more women are diagnosed with the disease than men. 

Why Do People With Kleptomania Have the Urge to Steal?

People with kleptomania have the urge to steal because they feel anxious and tense just thinking about the act. The feelings of pleasure and relief are experienced once the act is done.

Once the act is done, they may feel remorse or guilt over the act. Then this becomes a vicious cycle. It happens again and again if left untreated.

The American Psychiatric Association states in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) that the theft does not occur to express vengeance or as a response to any form of hallucination. Some kleptomaniacs are not even consciously aware they committed theft not until later. There’s just the strong urge to steal that comes out of nowhere. 

What Are Impulse Control Disorders?

An impulse control disorder is a mental illness in which a person cannot take control of their emotions or behaviors. Often, these behaviors conflict with societal norms, are against the law, and violate other people’s rights.

Examples of impulse control disorders are Kleptomania, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Intermittent Explosive Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and many more. What is the common denominator among these disorders? The inability to take control over the emotions, behaviors, thoughts, and actions. 

Kleptomania Causes and Risk Factors

Like all the other mental health disorders, the cause of kleptomania is unknown. However, several theories suggest the root and risk factors that contribute to the development of kleptomania. The disorder may be linked to:

  • Problems with a brain neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin is responsible for regulating a person’s mood and emotions. Studies show that low serotonin levels contribute to a person’s impulsive behaviors.
  • The excitement of stealing may cause the release of the neurotransmitter called dopamine. The release of dopamine results in pleasurable feelings, and a person with kleptomania seeks that reward feeling over and over again. It’s like addictive recreational drugs. There is the “high” that is sought after.
  • The opioid system of the brain may also be a risk factor in the development of kleptomania. The urges can be related to the imbalance of the brain’s opioid system and make it hard to resist the urge.

Just like any mental illness, genetics plays a significant role in the development of the disease. A family history of kleptomania is also a risk factor for the disease. Having an immediate family such as a parent or sibling with the condition increases the risk of developing kleptomania.

girl with kleptomania caught stealing

Mental Health Complications in People with Kleptomania

If kleptomania is left untreated, it can result in family, work, emotional, and financial problems. Some people with kleptomania are aware that stealing is wrong but are unable to resist the impulse.

After doing the act, they may feel powerless, feel guilt, self-loathing, shame, and humiliated. This can affect a person’s feelings and lead to other mental health conditions. The complications and mental health conditions associated with kleptomania are:

  • Gambling addiction
  • Shopping addiction
  • Substance abuse disorders (drinking too much alcohol or abusing recreational drugs)
  • Other types of personality disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Thoughts of self-harm and suicidal thoughts 

Symptoms of Kleptomania

A person with kleptomania has a repeating drive to steal that they cannot resist. Other people with the disorder may feel guilty and even try to return the objects after stealing them. Here are the characteristics of a person with kleptomania:

  • Kleptomaniacs and shoplifters are different. Shoplifters steal because they cannot afford the merchandise or due to peer pressure or personal gain. On the other hand, kleptomaniacs do the deed because of the powerful urge to steal.
  • The episodes of stealing occur spontaneously and are not planned. The act is not premeditated and not in connivance with another person.
  • Most people with the disorder do the act in public places such as shops, boutiques, and supermarkets. Others may steal items from a friend’s house or at a party.
  • Kleptomaniacs steal items of no value, something they don’t need, and they have the money to buy them.
  • The items they steal are usually stashed away and are never used. They may also donate or give it to family or friends. Some may also secretly return the stolen items.
  • Their urge to steal may come and go, or the feelings may be lesser or greater over time.

How Is Kleptomania Diagnosed?

There are no diagnostic tests like X-ray or CT Scan that can determine the presence of kleptomania. A mental health professional is trained to diagnose and treat mental illness. Kleptomania is mainly diagnosed upon check-up with a psychiatrist. 

Can Kleptomania Be Treated?

There is no known cause for kleptomania. However, kleptomania symptoms can be controlled with different treatment approaches. Usually, medications, psychotherapy, and coping strategies can help overcome kleptomania symptoms.

Medications. Psychiatrists usually prescribe medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and antidepressants.

Therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with a mental health professional can help recognize patterns, thoughts, and behaviors why a kleptomaniac fails to resist stealing.

Psychotherapy is usually the first line of treatment for mental disorders. With this type of therapy, the mental health professional helps the person with kleptomania recognize the urges, discover why they are acting this way, and figure out solutions to resist impulses.

Coping strategies include:

  • Stick to the treatment plan by adhering to medications and attending all therapy sessions.
  • Identify the triggers and learn how to avoid them. Identify the situations that may lead to your compulsive stealing. If you’re aware of these situations, avoid them at all costs.
  • If you have other mental health disorders, mention them to your therapist. If there’s substance abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or stress, get yourself treated for them as well. 
  • Find healthy coping mechanisms so you can stop thinking about compulsive stealing. Try going to the gym, doing outdoor activities, and exploring a new hobby so you can be preoccupied with other things.
  • Learn stress reduction and relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing exercises, and meditation to control the urges.
  • Stay focused and motivated. Recovery from kleptomania does not happen overnight and may take time. Relapse is also possible, so stay motivated and focused your goal. 

Seek Support

Kleptomania is a psychiatric condition that needs to be addressed. It can majorly impact a person’s life, future, and everyday functioning. This kind of mental disorder can have legal consequences that can change the course of a person’s life.

Fortunately, there are treatment options available to control the symptoms of kleptomania. For people with kleptomania, do not be afraid to seek support. This is a real disorder that you should not be ashamed about.

Do you want to reach the point where you’ll face legal consequences? If your answer is no, seek support right now. Talk to a mental health professional at Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC).

It helps to share your inner secrets in therapy to get the relief and support you need. KCC’s online mental health counseling is completely secure and confidential, so schedule an appointment now.

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