Kleptomania is the recurrent inability to resist urges to steal items that you generally don't really need and that usually have little value.
Kleptomania (klep-toe-MAY-nee-uh) is the recurrent inability to resist urges to steal items that you generally don't really need and that usually have little value. Kleptomania is a rare but serious mental health disorder that can cause much emotional pain to you and your loved ones if not treated.
Kleptomania is a type of impulse control disorder — a disorder that's characterized by problems with emotional or behavioral self-control. If you have an impulse control disorder, you have difficulty resisting the temptation or drive to perform an act that's excessive or harmful to you or someone else.
Many people with kleptomania live lives of secret shame because they're afraid to seek mental health treatment. Although there's no cure for kleptomania, treatment with medication or talk therapy (psychotherapy) may help to end the cycle of compulsive stealing.
Kleptomania symptoms may include:
People with kleptomania typically exhibit these features or characteristics:
If you can't stop shoplifting or stealing, seek medical advice. Many people who may have kleptomania don't want to seek treatment because they're afraid they'll be arrested or jailed. However, a mental health professional typically doesn't report your thefts to authorities.
Some people seek medical help because they're afraid they'll get caught and have legal consequences. Or they've already been arrested, and they're legally required to seek treatment.
If you suspect a close friend or family member may have kleptomania, gently raise your concerns with your loved one. Keep in mind that kleptomania is a mental health condition, not a character flaw, so approach your loved one without blame or accusation.
It may be helpful to emphasize these points:
If you need help preparing for this conversation, talk with your doctor. He or she may refer you to a mental health professional who can help you plan a way of raising your concerns without making your loved one feel defensive or threatened.
The cause of kleptomania is not known. Several theories suggest that changes in the brain may be at the root of kleptomania. More research is needed to better understand these possible causes, but kleptomania may be linked to:
Kleptomania is considered uncommon. However, some people with kleptomania may never seek treatment, or they're simply jailed after repeated thefts, so some cases of kleptomania may never be diagnosed. Kleptomania often begins during the teen years or in young adulthood, but can start in adulthood or later. About two-thirds of people with known kleptomania are women.
Kleptomania risk factors may include:
Left untreated, kleptomania can result in severe emotional, family, work, legal and financial problems. For example, you know stealing is wrong but you feel powerless to resist the impulse, so you may be wracked by guilt, shame, self-loathing and humiliation. And you may be arrested for stealing. You may otherwise lead a moral, upstanding life and be confused and upset by your compulsive stealing.
Other complications and conditions associated with kleptomania may include:
Because the cause of kleptomania isn't clear, it's not yet known how to prevent it with any certainty. Getting treatment as soon as compulsive stealing begins may help prevent kleptomania from becoming worse and prevent some of the negative consequences.
When you decide to seek treatment for symptoms of possible kleptomania, you may have both a physical and psychological evaluation. The physical evaluation can determine if there may be any medical causes triggering your symptoms.
Kleptomania is diagnosed based on your signs and symptoms. Because it's a type of impulse control disorder, to help pinpoint a diagnosis, your doctor may:
Although fear, humiliation or embarrassment may make it hard for you to seek treatment for kleptomania, it's important to get help. Kleptomania is difficult to overcome on your own. Without treatment, kleptomania will likely be an ongoing, long-term condition.
Treatment of kleptomania typically involves medications and psychotherapy, or both, sometimes along with self-help groups. However, there's no standard kleptomania treatment, and researchers are still trying to understand what may work best. You may have to try several types of treatment to find what works well for you.
There's little scientific research about using psychiatric medications to treat kleptomania. And there is no FDA-approved medication for kleptomania. However, certain medications may help, depending on your situation and whether you have other mental health disorders, such as depression or substance misuse.
Your doctor may consider prescribing:
If medication is prescribed, ask your doctor, mental health professional or pharmacist about potential side effects or possible interactions with any other medications.
A form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy helps you identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones. Cognitive behavioral therapy may include these techniques to help you control kleptomania urges:
It's not unusual to have relapses of kleptomania. To help avoid relapses, be sure to stick to your treatment plan. If you feel urges to steal, contact your mental health professional or reach out to a trusted person or support group.
You can take steps to care for yourself with healthy coping skills while getting professional treatment:
If your loved one is being treated for kleptomania, make sure you understand the details of the treatment plan and actively support its success. It may be helpful to attend one or more therapy sessions with your loved one so that you're familiar with the factors that seem to trigger the urge to steal and the most effective ways to cope.
You may also benefit from talking with a therapist yourself. Recovering from an impulse control disorder is a challenging, long-term undertaking — both for the person with the disorder and those closest to him or her. Make sure you're taking care of your own needs with the stress-reduction outlets that work best for you, such as exercise, meditation or time with friends.
People with kleptomania may benefit from participating in self-help groups based on 12-step programs. Even if you can't find a group specifically for kleptomania, you may benefit from attending Alcoholics Anonymous or other addiction meetings. Such groups don't suit everyone's tastes, so ask your mental health professional about alternatives.
If you struggle with an irresistible urge to steal, talk to your doctor. Having that discussion will undoubtedly be scary, but trust that your doctor is interested in caring for your health, not in judging you. Your doctor may refer you to a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, with experience diagnosing and treating kleptomania.
You may want to take a trusted family member or friend along to help remember the details. In addition, someone who has known you for a long time may be able to ask questions or share information with the mental health professional that you don't remember to bring up.
Here's some information to help you get ready and know what to expect from your doctor or mental health professional.
To prepare for your appointment, make a list of:
Some questions to ask your mental health professional may include:
To better understand your symptoms and how they're affecting your life, your mental health professional may ask:
June 6th, 2020