What is kleptomania?
Kleptomania is an impulse disorder. People who have this disorder are unable to resist an urge to steal, even though they know it is harmful. The urge makes them anxious, tense, or aroused. They may feel regret or guilt later.
Normally, people who steal take something because it is worth money or it is useful. People who have kleptomania may take something that is useless to them. This disorder is rare. A person with kleptomania feels a sense of relief or satisfaction when they steal something. Most people who steal or shoplift do not have this disorder.
What is the cause?
The exact cause of this disorder is not known. The cause may be due to one or more of the following:
The brain is made up of cells called neurons, and chemicals called neurotransmitters. The brain cells need the right balance of these chemicals to function normally. These chemicals affect your mood, emotions and behaviors. This disorder may result from too little or too much of some of these chemicals in your brain.
A trigger, which can be stress, a drug or a thought, may cause changes in the brain chemicals. Those chemical changes lead to urges to do something. There is usually a link between doing something and getting a good feeling. In kleptomania, the urge is to steal, even if it is harmful. The thoughts that link stealing to good feelings may be learned from things that happened when you are young or from recent experiences. Wanting the good feelings can trigger the same behavior in the future.
Kleptomania may be related to other mental disorders such as addiction, anxiety, or depression. Substance abuse and eating disorders are also common in people with kleptomania.
It may be a problem with genes that are passed from parents to children. The disorder may begin as early as age five.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may include:
taking objects on impulse, without planning ahead
repeatedly taking things that are not valuable or that you do not need or plan to use
feeling very tense right before the theft
feeling pleasure or relief at the time of the theft
People with this disorder do not steal because they are angry or want revenge.
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider or a mental health therapist will ask about your symptoms and any drug or alcohol use. You may have lab tests to rule out medical problems.
How is it treated?
Many kinds of therapy have been used to treat this disorder, but it is not clear which one is best.
Several types of medicines can help treat kleptomania. Your healthcare provider will work with you to carefully select the best one for you.
Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) is a way to help you identify and change views you have of yourself, the world, and the future. CBT can make you aware of unhealthy ways of thinking. It can also help you learn new thought and behavior patterns.
Treatment may involve conditioning techniques. The goal of conditioning is for you to learn to link your behavior with something unpleasant (like a bad smell) and avoid both.
Family therapy may also be important, since this disorder can affect families as well as the person who steals.
Legal penalties for stealing are the same no matter what the cause. If you think you might have kleptomania, seek help. A mental health therapist can discuss your stealing without reporting you to the legal system. Ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a mental health therapist.
How can I take care of myself?
Get support. Talk with family and friends. Consider joining a support group in your area.
Learn to manage stress. Ask for help at home and work when the load is too great to handle. Find ways to relax, for example take up a hobby, listen to music, watch movies, and take walks. Try deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
Take care of your physical health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet. Limit caffeine. If you smoke, quit. Avoid alcohol and drugs. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.
Check your medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all the medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and other supplements that you take.
Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your symptoms seem to be getting worse.