Impulse Control Disorders Kleptomania

Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder. Characteristically, people with the disorder have an uncontrollable desire to steal things they don’t want or need, and that have little value to them. Kleptomania is characterized by extreme states of tension before the act, euphoria during the stealing and shame afterwards.

Kleptomania disorder is different from shoplifting because the theft is usually unplanned and it isn’t financially motivated. A person with kleptomaniac urges steals for the thrill and is unable to resist the impulse to take something without paying for it.

Kleptomania Symptoms

Most people with kleptomania disorder are women, and their average age is 35. Kleptomania symptoms usually develop in adolescence and may continue for about 20 years.

People with kleptomania are often very ashamed of their behavior and they may go to great lengths to conceal what they have stolen. Some try to avoid situations that trigger their kleptomania symptoms.

Shoplifting is a major social problem. According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, more than $13 billion worth of merchandise stolen from U.S. merchants each year. However, all of these thieves don’t have kleptomania.

In order to be diagnosed with kleptomania, an individual must meet these criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV):

  • A repeated failure to resist the urge to steal for no identifiable reason
  • Growing tension before stealing
  • Pleasure while stealing
  • A lack of rational or emotional triggers, such as wanting revenge.

The theft behavior also can’t be attributed to other causes such as antisocial personality disorder, conduct disorder or a manic episode.

Kleptomania Causes

Although researchers have not identified a definitive cause for kleptomania, a genetic link is suspected as the cause of kleptomania disorder, and the condition may be associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Research has also linked kleptomania with mood disorders. The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention reports that in several studies, depression was diagnosed in about one-third of shoplifters.

Treatment for Kleptomania Symptoms

Kleptomania disorder is very difficult to treat, and no complete cure for kleptomania has been found. However, treatment with therapy and medication can help patients resist the urge to steal.

During cognitive behavioral therapy, patients dealing with kleptomania identify the triggers and thought processes that launch their compulsive behavior. By tying thought processes to kleptomaniac behavior, they become aware of impulses and learn how to think their way out of the urge to steal.

Anti-depressant medications like Prozac®, which alter serotonin levels and affect mood changes in the brain, have proven useful in treating kleptomania disorder, as has naltrexone, an opioid antagonist.

If you find yourself exhibiting kleptomania symptoms, or know someone who is, speak with a medical doctor or mental health professional to learn about the treatment options available.


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