Kleptomania is the inability for an individual to avoid stealing. It is an impulse control disorder, in which the sufferer is not able to utilize self control over their actions, regardless of the consequence. While this issue can be helped, many do not seek treatment for kleptomania out of shame or embarrassment.
The main indicator of kleptomania is an inability to resist the impulse to steal an item. However, an individual with this disorder may experience agitation in the period leading up to the theft itself. During the act of theft itself, those with kleptomania will feel a sense of comfort when carrying out the action itself though these feelings will be replaced by guilt and shame after the theft occurs.
Those who steal because of kleptomania do not have deep-seated reasoning for their actions, other than being unable to resist their impulses. Usually, these instances occur impulsively and are not premeditated. Oftentimes, the person is indeed able to afford the item in question or the item may not even be used by the one who took it. The urge to steal may vary widely over periods of time (DSM-V)
Of course, if a kleptomaniac does not receive proper treatment for the problem, it may lead to a number of consequences. This may include arrest and imprisonment for their offenses. Likewise, a person with kleptomania may struggle with comorbid issues such as drug or alcohol abuse or mental health disorders like depression or anxiety.
The cause of kleptomania is not well known though there are different theories about why it occurs in different people. For instance, the person may have lower levels of the neurotransmitter known as serotonin which is important in balancing moods and emotions. Similarly, stealing may cause levels of dopamine to rise, which gives the person feelings of pleasure. An imbalance in the brain’s opioid system may also make it harder to modify behavior.
There are certain factors that may increase the likelihood of one suffering from kleptomania. For instance, the illness occurs more often in women than men. Also, this disorder is more likely to occur in combination with another disorder, such as a substance abuse disorder or an anxiety disorder. Those with a brain injury may also be at an increased risk. If someone has a family member who has kleptomania, they may have an increased risk of developing the disorder (Psychology Today).
Many may choose to not seek treatment for kleptomania because they are humiliated by what it has caused them to do. However, this condition is often quite difficult to overcome without assistance. Certain medications, such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) may prove to be helpful, even though there is no specific medication designed to treat kleptomania.
Another option for patients is psychotherapy. This will help the individual identify negative behaviors or actions that are leading to kleptomania, as well as how to best divert these negative behaviors. For example, practicing aversion techniques, such as holding one’s breath when the urge to steal appears, can help. It may also help to picture oneself resisting urges to steal or picture oneself facing consequences for stealing, such as being arrested. One may choose to reach out to a therapist or a support group if they feel the urge to steal.
It is wise to educate oneself about the condition so that symptoms are more easily managed and so friends and family are better able to understand what the individual is going through. The individual should be aware of triggers in the environment that may intensify responses.
If the person is suffering from other mental health conditions or struggling with substance abuse it will also be necessary to treat these comorbid disorders for better odds of recovery.