Kleptomania means “shoplifting” in layman’s terms. Kleptomania is a disorder in which the person cannot stop himself/herself from fulfilling a constant urge to steal things that he or she doesn’t need and which are of little value to them. This disorder is a very serious mental disorder and can cause emotional discomfort and embarrassment to the sufferers and their loved ones.
Kleptomania is a type of the group impulse control disorder. Impulse control means failure in resisting the temptation. In kleptomania this urge is associated with stealing. The patient develops an impulse to steal; he/she tries to stifle it by reasoning with himself/herself, ultimately gives in by committing the act of stealing which gives the feeling of immense pleasure. The person feels relieved from the growing tension prior the stealing. This usually is followed by guilty feelings about the act.
Kleptomania is quite under diagnosed as the persons suffering from it feel ashamed of their act and refuse to seek help because of these feelings of embarrassment. Kleptomania is many times associated with other psychiatric problems like anxiety and eating disorders. They are also associated with substance and alcohol abuse.
Signs and Symptoms
- Stealing unuseful items
- Feelings of shame or fear after the stealth
- Presence of the mental disorders like anxiety, depression and eating disorders
- History of alcohol abuse
- Spontaneous theft without prior planning or thoughts
2/3rd diagnosed patients of kleptomania are females. It’s mostly seen in childhood and adolescent age group. This disorder is also genetically related. If a first degree relative has kleptomania, then you are pre exposed for the disorder. It can also be seen in patients following a head trauma or brain injury. People usually having pre existing mental disorder are prone to develop kleptomania.
The exact cause of the disorder is not clear yet. Some theories suggest that the imbalance of neurotransmitters may be the reason. It is theorised to be associated with decreased levels of serotonin. The act of stealing may be associated with the release of dopamine which has a pleasurable feeling attached to it. Brain’s opioid system is also linked to this disorder.
Many people with kleptomania don’t seek help because of the feelings of fear, regret and shame. But if left untreated following complications may arise:
- Impulsive gambling
- Police arrest for stealing
- Anxiety and depression
- Alcohol addiction
- Drug abuse
- Eating disorders
It’s very important to seek help if one is suffering from kleptomania even if you feel humiliation or fear or embarrassment. The treatment involves primarily of two components – psychotherapy and medications. A type of psychotherapy called as cognitive behavioural therapy is very effective in dealing with kleptomania. In these techniques the person is urged to think about the consequences of his/her actions prior doing them and exercise their mind in controlling the urges.
As the kleptomania is many times associated with other psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety and eating disorders, the medicines given for these disorders are also effective for kleptomania. According to the hypothesised neurotransmitter involvement in the brain, different medicines like serotonin reuptake inhibitors and opioid antagonists will be given by the doctor.
Kleptomania is just a disorder and people shouldn’t stigmatise it by blaming the sufferer. The sufferer is mere a victim of the disorder. Moral support can go a long way in helping the people affected with kleptomania.