What is kleptomania?

Kleptomania is a mental disorder characterised by an uncontrolled and obsessive impulse to steal. In psychiatry it is considered as an impulse control disorder, which means the person with the disorder has problems resisting the temptation to perform acts which are harmful to either themselves or others.

What are the symptoms of kleptomania?

The main symptoms are:

  • A powerful impulse to steal objects that one does not really need
  • Growing tension that is relieved by stealing
  • Gratification or pleasure during the theft
  • Sensation of guilt or shame after the theft

Those with kleptomania often experience other types of disorder which affect mood, anxiety, and impulse control. The feelings that a kleptomaniac experiences such as guilt, remorse, and stress, can intensify existing comorbidities, or cause them to happen.

What are the causes of kleptomania?

The exact cause of kleptomania is not known, but it is estimated that there are some risk factors:

  • Problems with serotonin: the substance that helps regulate emotions and moods.
  • Family history: having a family member with kleptomania, problems with alcohol or obsessive-compulsive disorder can increase the risk.
  • Other mental illnesses: usually people with kleptomania also have other mental illnesses, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, impulse control disorders, anxiety, bipolarity, substance abuse, eating disorders or personality disorders.
  • Brain injuries or head trauma

What is the treatment for kleptomania?

Kleptomania can be treated by several techniques:

  • Psychotherapy: cognitive-behavioral therapy helps identify negative behaviors and thoughts by positive ones. Other therapeutic techniques can be family therapy, couples therapy or psychodynamic therapy.
  • Medication: drugs such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, anticonvulsants or opioid receptor antagonists can help calm impulses.
  • Self-help groups: receiving support to help overcome or manage the disorder.

Psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists are generally involved in the treatment of kleptomania. 

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