Have you ever seen someone who is not in need of a thing and can very well afford to buy it, but still chooses to steal it? If yes, then the person is probably a “Kleptomaniac”!
Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder that results in an uncontrollable urge to steal items which are not needed or which have little monetary value. A person suffering from Kleptomania usually experiences pleasure, gratification or relief from stealing. However, such a person tends to return the item as he usually feels depressed or guilty about the theft afterward. It is often seen in people having a coexisting mood, major depression, eating disorders, anxiety or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Detection of Kleptomania is difficult as patients usually do not seek medical help. Hence, it often remains under-diagnosed. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, symptoms of Kleptomania include-
- Recurring intrusive thoughts and inability to resist the urge to steal, regardless of any economic motive.
- Experiencing an increase in tension just before the theft.
- A release of pressure and feelings of pleasure and satisfaction on committing the theft.
- Unplanned stealing, which usually happens on the spur-of-the-moment.
Kleptomania is relatively rare and the age of onset is variable. It can commence in childhood, adolescence, adulthood or even in late adulthood and is more common in females than in males.
Very little is known about the exact cause of Kleptomania. Although, psychologists believe that sometimes the people suffering from other disorders like mood disorders or depression, use the act of stealing as a defense mechanism. It is a means to cope up with stressful situations and distressing feelings or to keep undesirable emotions from being expressed.
Kleptomania may also have a genetic component and can be transferred from one generation to the other. It can also be a result of an imbalance of the neurotransmitters in the brain. This affects the brain’s ability to control impulses and can be caused due to an excessive amount of stress or anxiety.
Kleptomania is a serious disorder and is difficult to overcome it on our own. Without treatment, Kleptomania can become a chronic, long-term condition.
Psychotherapy or counseling is one of the main treatments for impulse control disorders. A form of psychotherapy known as “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” (CBT) helps the person to respond to the urges in a more appropriate way. The patient is generally engaged in desensitization where he is made to imagine the situations in which he might steal. Relaxation techniques are then used to reduce the tension experienced in such settings. The patient is also made to imagine the negative consequences of shoplifting and combining it with the compulsion to steal. Also, shopping alone or shopping in large chain retailers, in such cases, is prohibited.
Medications such as antidepressant drugs called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) can also be used to curb very intense urges. Also, drugs like Topiramate and Naltrexone have proved to be helpful in controlling impulse-based behavior.
There is no definite way to prevent Kleptomania. However, a healthy upbringing, positive & happy relationships and proper management of stressful situations may lower the chances of its contraction. It is advisable to get proper help and treatment as soon as the symptoms arise, so as to prevent harmful consequences and any possible disruption to the person’s life.
If any of your loved ones is suffering from Kleptomania, it is very important that you understand the details and actively support its treatment. Such a person is probably undergoing a lot of mental stress or some chronic disorder. Kleptomania can also lead to dire legal consequences, if not judged correctly.
Hence, make sure you provide the necessary love, care, and support, which will definitely help your loved one recover faster!