Kleptomania: Causes, Symptoms, Disorder, Treatment & Prevention

Kleptomania: Causes, Symptoms, Disorder, Treatment & Prevention

Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder where a person has a constant uncontrolled desire to steal and hoard things, most of which he does not require. A kleptomaniac is aware of the disease but does not have the power to control his temptation even if it is harmful to him and the entire family.

A kleptomaniac generally lives a life of guilt and shame because he feels afraid to visit a psychiatrist or a counsellor out of the fear of being defamed.

A person suffering from kleptomania cannot be treated with medicines, but meditation and counselling can help him deal with this mental health disorder. A kleptomaniac does not suffer in isolation, but the stealing habits inflict emotional pain on family members . Most of the people are unaware that kleptomania is a mental disease and consider the kleptomaniac as a thief .

What is Kleptomania ?

If you are suffering from kleptomania, you do not steal for personal gain. You steal from an uncontrollable and sudden urge to steal. You are different from a shoplifter or a robber in the sense that they steal purposefully and you are suffering from an impulsive control disorder.

A kleptomaniac generally steals from a shop or friends and relatives. They mostly steal things that are of no value to them. If you are a kleptomaniac, you generally stash away or donate the stolen items. The urge to steal is sudden and may weaken or become stronger over time.

The root cause of kleptomania is unknown. Low levels of a chemical called serotonin in the brain can be a cause of kleptomania because serotonin helps regulate emotions and actions. Stealing is linked to the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that causes pleasure, thus necessitating the urge to steal more.

A congenital kleptomaniac is a person who has had the disease since birth. A congenital kleptomaniac generally inherits the disease if there is a family history of having a parent or sibling with kleptomania or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

What are the Features of Kleptomania?

If you are diagnosed with Kleptomania, you may exhibit the following:

  • A powerful and irresistible urge to steal
  • It is a spontaneous occurrence of episodes of Kleptomania. Typically, without planning or help from another person.
  • You steal from public places, stores, supermarkets, or close friends and acquaintances. 
  • The stolen value does not have any value to you as you can afford to buy them
  • The stolen items are stored, donated, or returned to the place from where you stole
  • The intensity of the urge may vary with time

People Who Get Affected By Kleptomania 

Kleptomania can affect anyone of all ages, and doctors have diagnosed cases in young children as young as 4-year-olds and older individuals aged close to 77 years, as well. However, women or individuals assigned female at birth are three times at higher risk of developing Kleptomania than men and individuals assigned as male at birth.

Is Kleptomania a Common Condition?

Kleptomania is a rare condition. Researchers estimate that Kleptomania affects about 0.6% of U.S citizens, and close to 5% are arrested for shoplifting.

How Can Kleptomania Affect Your Body?  

Think of your brain as a complex computer with intricate connections that connects the brain to different body parts. These connections create a road to help you develop thoughts and convert them into actions. And every time you learn something new, a new road gets constructed. It is a continuous process; the brain also creates a road for inhibitions that lets you not perform specific actions. People with Kleptomania understand and know that stealing is wrong, but they continue to do so. It is because their inhibition road doesn’t perform as expected. Therefore, they are not deterred by the consequences of their actions, including arrest or jail time.

What to Do If Our Loved One Has Kleptomania?

If you doubt that your loved one may have Kleptomania, it is best to approach the topic with them gently. However, it is vital to note that Kleptomania is a mental health condition and does not define the character. Therefore, talk to your friend or family member suffering from Kleptomania with love and understanding and without blame or accusation. It is crucial to have an honest conversation to share your concerns, including:

  • Health and well-being of your loved one
  • Risks of their compulsive behaviour, such as getting arrested, losing a job, or putting a strain on relationships 

Apart from the above concerns, request them to resist their urge to steal and help them find the necessary help to control the urge. Thus, helping them live without addiction or shame.

Having such a conversation is difficult. You can always seek help from a doctor. The healthcare provider may help create a plan to talk to your loved ones without making them feel defensive or threatened.

When to see a doctor?

If you cannot resist shoplifting or stealing, contact your healthcare provider at the earliest opportunity. Most people with Kleptomania refuse to seek treatment due to apprehensions about getting arrested or jailed. Knowing that a healthcare professional must not report your thefts to the authorities is vital. Few other individuals are ready to seek help as they are afraid of the consequences or are legally bound to get treated. 

Symptoms of Kleptomania

The easily noticeable symptoms of kleptomania are:

  • Feelings of tension or anxiety that can be relaxed by stealing
  • The powerful and uncontrollable urge to steal items without any purpose
  • The items which you steal are generally ones you do not need
  • You feel pleasure, happiness, or relaxation after a sudden act of stealing
  • You feel shameful, guilty of self loathe after an act of impulsive stealing.
  • You might fear that you will be arrested, punished, or defamed
  • You will return or donate the objects after stealing them, but the urge of stealing will return.
  • The kleptomania cycle will repeat itself

Causes of Kleptomania

The cause of Kleptomania is unknown. But, certain evidence points out the following possible causes:

  • Differences in brain structure: People suffering from Kleptomania may have a different brain structure in the area that controls impulses and inhibitions. 
  • Alterations in brain chemistry: Neurotransmitters are specialized chemical that helps your brain communicate with other body parts and manage different processes. But when there is an alteration in the chemical, it may develop into this condition. For example, people have developed Kleptomania after taking medication that alters neurotransmitters. However, these are uncommon and need more research to know the cause of the same.
  • An indication of other underlying medical conditions: Some experts believe that Kleptomania is a symptom and not a condition. People with other medical conditions also suffer from Kleptomania, which is common in many patients with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addictions, and substance use disorders.
  • Genetics: Many experts are unsure if genetic, and family history plays a role in increasing the risk of developing Kleptomania. However, people with this condition have a family history of mental health conditions, particularly anxiety, mood and substance use.

Tests Done To Diagnose Kleptomania?

Diagnosing Kleptomania is a challenge as there are no tests available. However, doctors conduct various tests to rule out any other mental health conditions. Your healthcare provider is best to guide you with the tests and the reasons for its requirement.

Treatment of Kleptomania

A combination of physical and psychological evaluation can help treat Kleptomania and help the patient understand the nature of Kleptomania. Kleptomania can be managed by a combination of medications, psychotherapy, and through support groups.

Medications. There are no FDA approved medicines for Kleptomania. Doctors prescribe certain medicines depending on the condition of the patient and if the patient is suffering from other mental disorders along with Kleptomania. The doctors may suggest naltrexone, a medicine that can reduce impulsive urges. The doctor may also suggest antidepressants to cure other symptoms related to Kleptomania such as depression or suicidal thoughts.

Psychotherapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy helps in replacing negative behavior and thought processes with positive ones. Cognitive behavioral therapy includes covert sensitization, aversion therapy, and systematic desensitization.

Avoiding relapses: If you feel the urge to steal again, you should not discontinue your treatment. You should contact your doctor, a support group, or a close friend or family member if you have a temptation to steal.

Coping : the most important step in the treatment of Kleptomania is self -awareness and the urge to get cured. You need to stick to your treatment plan without missing

therapy sessions. You should identify the situations or feelings that may trigger you to steal. Try to control the urges through meditation.

You should get engaged in healthy hobbies like exercising and yoga to get relief from anxiety and stress.

Support groups: A kleptomaniac can get help from support groups who deal with impulsive disorder diseases. Your psychotherapist might suggest such groups to help you.

Prevention of Kleptomania

The causes of Kleptomania are not clear; therefore, it is not known for sure how to prevent it. However, if you start treatment from the very beginning, then you can prevent or stop the disease from becoming worse or leading to other obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Complications Due to Kleptomania

Various complications of Kleptomania include:

  • If a kleptomaniac is not treated on time, it may affect him/her and his/her family emotionally, mentally, and financially.
  • A kleptomaniac may suffer from isolation and guilt from the fear of humiliation.
  • As the urge to steal is uncontrollable, a kleptomaniac may end up in jail.
  • A kleptomaniac may suffer from other impulse control disorders like compulsive shopping, gambling, or alcohol misuse.
  • A kleptomaniac may suffer from eating and personality disorders. He may suffer from constant anxiety or depression from the fear of getting caught or being arrested.● A kleptomaniac can have bipolar disorders or suicidal thoughts.

Risk factors of Kleptomania

Kleptomania is a rare condition, and some patients may never seek treatment. But a few cases are untreated as they may get jailed for repeated thefts. The condition often develops during the teen years in young adulthood but can also begin later in life. Close to two-thirds of kleptomaniacs are known to be women. The following are the risk factors:

  • Family history: You be at an increased risk if your immediate family member, such as a parent or siblings, suffers from another mental health disorder.
  • Other mental illnesses: If you are suffering from Kleptomania, you may also suffer from other mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and an eating disorder.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

How do I stop being a kleptomaniac without therapy?

Kleptomania is a form of impulse control disorder. You can identify the situations and feelings that trigger your urge to steal and then try to manage those emotions through meditation and help from support groups. You can keep yourself busy by getting engaged in meaningful activities like exercising and gardening.However therapy works well in helping you overcome kleptomania .

How often do kleptomaniacs Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)- Causes, Symptoms and Treatmenteal?

Kleptomaniacs steal when certain situations or emotions trigger their urge to steal. They mainly steal from public places like stores and malls. They even steal from friends and family members.

Is kleptomania a form of OCD?

Kleptomania can be said to be a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder because of the uncontrollable urge to steal and hoard things without any purpose. Many kleptomaniacs steal and hoard compulsively , which is similar to symptoms of OCD.

At what age does Kleptomania begin?

The condition often develops during the teen years in young adulthood but can also begin later in life. Close to two-thirds of kleptomaniacs are known to be women.

Is Kleptomania a crime?

In this condition, the patients often commit a crime, which is part of the diagnostic criteria. However, lawyers use it to minimize punishments against repeat offenders. 

Can a kleptomaniac go to jail?

Kleptomania is a rare condition, and some patients may never seek treatment. But a few cases are untreated as they may get jailed for repeated thefts.

What is it called when you can’t stop stealing?

If you can not stop stealing, it is called Kleptomania

Is stealing a symptom of ADHD?

Kleptomania can also signify other mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.